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Cloud with clarity

As Goldsmiths finalises plans for a major cloud implementation, head of infrastructure services Jamie Lee explains the importance of a clear vision.

Jamie Lee

It’s 18 months into the planning stage for a major cloud implementation at Goldsmiths, University of London, and head of infrastructure services Jamie Lee is sounding careful not to get carried away. Budgets are up for approval, targets identified and the benefits of cloud articulated. But it’s vital, he says, to make sure that this is seen as more than just an IT project.

“We have to keep asking ourselves: why are we doing cloud? Is it some cool IT thing or are there genuine strategic benefits? We have to keep reviewing those benefits. In our case, it means focusing our cloud adoption on what we can enable – creating a platform for innovation as part of our digital strategy.”

Many of the benefits Jamie anticipates will be familiar to Networkshop47 delegates: delivering IT services faster and with agility; resilience and availability; and reduced total cost. At Goldsmiths, there’s also the goal of building an efficient and effective infrastructure, an explicit part of the institution’s strategic planning.

But, Jamie says, the planned project is also about fostering a digital culture – which means bringing the benefits of the cloud to the wider business and developing self-service, automated tools that can help Goldsmiths to use connectivity and data in agile, innovative ways.

“For example, we could invest in HPC or AI capability on a pay-as-you-use model within public cloud, helping us to compete with institutions with bigger research budgets,” says Jamie.

“It could mean deepening our knowledge of student expectations by using business intelligence, where historically we’ve had disparate systems where it would be hard to make sense of data.

“We would also seek to allow a fail-fast approach to projects, encouraging dev ops in wider areas of the institution, not just in IT or a niche area of research.”

Of course, change like this can be challenging for a small IT team as it moves from a traditional, on-premise model.

“As an infrastructure team, we’re used to configuring hardware and software to provide services. In the public cloud, we don’t touch the physical infrastructure but we’re more involved in coding. Our skills have to move toward infrastructure as code – developing and envisioning services with less reliance on physical assets – which allows us to be more flexible.

“For example, we might make tools that will be used in a self-service way out in the business, so if a research team wants to spin up a disk or some compute, they have the skills to do that themselves.”

More widely, bringing stakeholders into the planning is also key. “If there are areas within the business using cloud, I recommend bringing them into the conversation, so we can develop platforms in collaboration with academic departments.”

Jamie is pragmatic about how the project will develop, going forward. Currently he has a five-year plan; within two to three years, he expects to have 80% of business systems within the public cloud. Simpler business functions will be migrated first, to develop skills and build confidence, while bigger moves will be outsourced.

He has also made a business case for a hybrid cloud approach:

“I see a wider evolution of the hybrid cloud, where we have the capability to adopt cloud-like services on-premise, develop the service and migrate once in a stable release. We could invest more in a modernised infrastructure on-premise to have some of that capability.”

To support the plan, he is seeking investment in skills, resilience and connectivity – providing an extension of the data centre and a platform for innovation.

Informing all of the above, he says, has been the “critical friend” that Jamie has in Jisc.

“We’ve been working really well together. We’ve been open in sharing papers for critical review and feedback – and holding workshops to support both planning and delivery.”

“Along the way, Jisc has helped us to form our vision – and to stay true to the vision we had when we began the journey. They’ve helped provide clarity with approaches – and having experts that have experienced cloud adoption, and migrations within the sector, has been a huge plus.”

Jamie says it will also help to have Jisc on board as he engages with commercial entities. “There’s a risk that you end up being sold a commercial company’s dream but not a dream that fully aligns to your goals as an organisation. That’s key for me.”

Jamie admits that Goldsmiths has not yet solved all the challenges it faces but looks forward to the future. “We have our vision, we have our approach and we’re at a stage now where we’re keen to start delivering.”

Jamie’s recommendations for moving to the cloud

  • Go slowly
  • Treat this is a business project, not just an IT project
  • Ensure that your IT team is engaged
  • Consider what a cloud-first model means for your organisation – does it mean you ‘lift and shift’ everything or use SaaS or PaaS?
  • Try to get all your data into repositories so you can make sense of it
  • Keep communicating to stakeholders about the changes in ways of working, in terms of infrastructure, service delivery and financing