Established around 700 A.D., Somerset insouthwest England boasts one of the oldest local governments in the world. But despite its age—or perhaps because of it—Somerset County Council has proved itself to be one major example of how the UK is looking to “rethink and revamp” its technologies to better serve its citizens and its goals. By switching hosting services from a costly local data centre to an integrated hybrid cloud system, the county is not only improving efficiency and reducing downtime, it’s also saving more than €70,000 a year in power.— Philippe Leonard
Solving software struggles
A problem many counties and cities may face, as Somerset’s IT budget decreased, its technological expenses continued to increase. “Our infrastructure was being maintained in a way that was designed only to keep services running, and we didn’t have control of the underlying architecture, so we couldn’t make changes to help with long-term strategy. And even though a lot of the hardware was fairly ancient, we were paying hefty costs,” explained Andy Grigg, Enterprise Architect at Somerset County Council.
After a series of system outages and recurring issues like programs and apps freezing, due in part to traffic spikes and outdated software, the county looked to find a new IT solution that would avoid these issues without exorbitant expense. The answer: cloud services. By transitioning to a hybrid Azure architecture, the county could run its programs on one platform that would support its servers while allowing developers to quickly adopt new technology and software instead of waiting for the IT team to make these updates. “Historically, we would put a request into the server team and it could take weeks for a server to be available,” Grigg explained. “Infrastructure as code saves time because now when we deploy software, a new server is automatically and instantly deployed.”
Perks of cloud-based services
One of the main expenses the county had was maintaining an on-premises data centre 24/7. Instead of paying around the clock, now Somerset County Council has the ability to switch off services with Azure when they’re not being used. This yearly expense, which totalled up to a power bill of more than €70,000, will scale down to nearly zero when the migration to the cloud is complete. Another major benefit of the new system is the ease of application used by both employees and residents. One example: custom-crafted app Rights of Way and Open-Space Area Management (ROAM), which maintains Somerset’s 9,000 paths thanks to a countywide collaboration. With software running at a much a quicker rate, apps like ROAM can easily develop and become more innovative in the future offering valuable services to the county’s citizens.