Brentwood Borough council reaps the benefits of its race to the cloud

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Brentwood Borough Council’s journey to the Cloud started back in 2015 with its Vision to deliver ‘The Right information, at the Right time to the Right people’. Driven by the phrase ‘High Availability by Design’, it took its first steps into the Cloud, with modernising its on-premise data centre.

The Council appointed leading Sector expert Sol-Tec to assist, following an introduction from Microsoft. It felt that Sol-Tec’s market leading Cloud knowledge would align well with Brentwood’s aspiration to ultimately go 100 per cent Cloud.

The Council quickly realised significant cost-savings from this initial step and began to explore further Cloud Migration opportunities, by creating a Hybrid environment to test applications within the Azure portal.

Skip forward a year to October 2016; Brentwood Borough Council decided, as part of its commercialisation goals, to move out of the Town Hall in order for the building to be remodelled and updated. As a result, all on-premise infrastructure had to be relocated.

The Town Hall move meant there were just 12 months to move 300 members of staff from a single location to four separate satellite sites. The various pilots for IaaS and DaaS had been successful so the most practical solution was to quickly adopt Azure Cloud Services. The Council could see that a 100 per cent move to Microsoft Azure was not only feasible but offered several additional benefits:

  • The Cloud Model would allow the Council to reduce the complexity of its internal network, by decommissioning core network infrastructure that was becoming end-of-life. This in turn would cut project costs for the new internal network.
  • Microsoft Azure provides several services to help secure data and applications, a responsibility Brentwood Borough Council’s in-house team had found challenging.
  • The Council’s drive to support home and remote working initiatives would be supported by technology such as Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure.

Brentwood Borough Council had a skilled inhouse IT team and a clear action plan for its move to the Cloud. However, it also recognised that to achieve a seamless transition, particularly with such a tight schedule, it would need a Cloud expert on board to provide guidance and consultancy throughout the project.

Gone to the cloud

To fully leverage the power of Microsoft Azure, Brentwood Borough Council designed and built a completely new DaaS environment using Server 2016 RDS. This replaced the Citrix on-premise platform that had become over complicated and increasingly expensive to use.

The migrations and updates began in November 2016 and pilots for the DaaS, in January 2017. Brentwood Borough Council’s approach to the whole project was – Migrate – Solve – Learn – Repeat. It adopted Agile Project Management (APM) and due to the nature of Microsoft Azure, this was achieved easily, with the ability to upscale, downscale and respond to VM infrastructure changes as new understanding was reached.

Ultimately, the Cloud Migration team were able to deliver the Council’s IT, direct to Council staff, at the four satellite sites, with just an HP Windows 10 IoT Thin Client running with dual screens and a reliable business grade internet connection. This not only offered Brentwood Council Officers complete hot desking capability, but also access to their systems on a wide variety of devices that support Microsoft RDS, such as Laptops, PCs and Chromebooks running Android.

Combining Sol-Tec’s Consultancy Services with a Velocity Agreement (Sol-Tec’s time-based support programme), Sol-Tec ensured the project remained on track, offering Brentwood Borough Council valuable advice and guidance throughout every stage of the project, from planning and understanding to migration and support. It also provided on-site resources that enabled Brentwood Borough Council to scale its team whenever required.

In just one year, Brentwood Borough Council moved its systems to the Cloud, seized the opportunity to upgrade relevant applications and servers to 2016 and now boasts a modern and fit for purpose ICT infrastructure and Business Application platform.

To implement major change within an organisation requires talented, dedicated people. Brentwood Borough Council’s in-house team were challenged by the pace of change and experience in Cloud technologies. Sol-Tec, with its hands on experience of Local Government IT, was able to keep the project pressing forward, bridging gaps in knowledge and relieving the pressure on the Council’s ICT team. Sol-Tec offered expert advice including:

  • Enabling Brentwood Borough Council to take advantage of the very latest Microsoft Azure features, including implementation of the newer ARM model and utilising Reserved Instances. This delivered a 30 per cent saving in the Council’s monthly Azure commitment spend.
  • Consultants who helped migrate several back office applications, in line with Government security principles.
  • Design and implementation of a Hybrid Cloud solution, which enabled the Council to run a mix of on-premise and Cloud applications during migration with no impact to staff.
  • Working with the third-party supplier of an external, hosted, finance system, to securely connect the software with applications hosted within Microsoft Azure. The transition was seamless, with no disruption to service.

Did the move to Azure pay off?

Brentwood Borough Council is now reaping the benefits of its move to Microsoft Azure and the dramatic changes in ICT Service delivery. The service has been transformed from one where weekly outages would impact the entire organisation, to one where the isolated instances that do occur, cause minimal disruption.

The Council ICT team has now begun a review across all its services to maximise the benefits its new technology platform offers. It is migrating specific VMs to different series’ while changing others to Reserved Instances and realising further cost savings in the process.

The Town Hall refurbishment project is on track to complete on schedule, in the Summer of 2019.

Council staff can be confident that in spite of the move, it will be business as usual. The biggest disruption they will face, will be packing up that box of personal belongings to move from one office space to another. 

Sol-Tec continues to work with Brentwood Borough Council providing specialist technical help and advice under the Velocity Agreement and on a consultative basis where required. The Council ICT team is keen to move more resources into the Cloud to continue reducing costs and with the recent announcement of Windows Virtual Desktop, there are plenty of projects to keep this partnership between Brentwood Borough Council and Sol-Tec exceptionally busy.

Vanessa Collins, Marketing Consultant. Sol-Tec
Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock