This is a case study about Network Rail’s adoption of hybrid cloud using Dell Technologies and Microsoft Azure.
Network Rail is an arm’s length body of the Department for Transport. It owns and operates the railway infrastructure in Great Britain.
What is hybrid cloud
Hybrid cloud makes use of private, enterprise cloud services and third-party, public cloud services and shares applications and data between them.
Using hybrid cloud
Using hybrid cloud means Network Rail can:
- continue using the private cloud for most of their legacy technologies
- develop new systems to make best use of the public cloud’s efficiencies
The hybrid cloud teams
There have been multiple teams involved in planning and delivering Network Rail’s hybrid cloud approach.
The team for the strategy phase
Network Rail’s strategy team defined Network Rail’s ‘Transformation Strategy’, one part of which was the adoption of a hybrid cloud approach. The strategy team consisted of 25 people with a core full-time team of 8 to 10 people.
The job roles were a mix of enterprise architects and strategic analysts.
The project team deploying hybrid cloud
When deploying hybrid cloud, the team has grown to between 40 and 50 people consisting of:
- project managers
- technical architects
- business analysts
- systems analysts
Network Rail has expanded its internal support teams, in particular for its infrastructure management teams and third party contractors. It has also hired in expertise from its partners and vendors.
The suppliers used
Network Rail’s hybrid cloud approach does not use a single supplier. Instead, Network Rail plans to procure technologies from a variety of companies.
For its private data centre, Network Rail has initially partnered with Dell Technologies using Dell EMC and VMware.
For the public cloud, Network Rail has partnered with Microsoft Azure initially and will procure additional technologies from other suppliers as needed.
Before Network Rail adopted a hybrid cloud approach
Before adoption a hybrid cloud approach, Network Rail had a large and complicated IT estate with over 1000 applications, some of which were 25 years old and inefficient.
Scoping Network Rail’s move to hybrid cloud
Network Rail identified obstacles when moving to hybrid cloud in its technology, skills, processes and governance.
To overcome obstacles for technology, Network Rail:
- upgraded and enhanced existing technologies and skills where it represented best value for the organisation
- identified and selected PaaS and SaaS options where they better suited Network Rail’s strategic needs
Network Rail is also making significant changes to its operating model to address obstacles with processes and governance. Network Rail is onboarding new suppliers to help with guidance and execution of these changes.
Choosing the right technology to deliver a hybrid cloud approach
Network Rail considered 7 main criteria when choosing technology. These criteria are not specific to hybrid cloud and no single point takes priority. For example, how it weighted the criteria would vary depending on whether Network Rail managed them in-house or via third parties.
||The range of the technical services offered by the supplier to meet the technical capabilities required.
||The alignment with architectural principles, policies and patterns, and the alignment to current and target technical architecture and services.
|Skills and knowledge fit
||The alignment with existing skills within Network Rail and its partners and the ongoing availability of those skills in the market.
||The capacity of the UK partner ecosystem for consulting, architecture, delivery, and support services.
||The range of the functional security services offered by the supplier.
|Service and supportability
||The level of technical complexity in integrating and supporting the solution, and the suitability of service level terms.
||The value for money of the solution.
Technology should not exist in isolation
Network Rail made the decision to spend slightly more on a technology solution if that solution had more integration capabilities with its other technologies. This meant Network Rail created an ecosystem of technologies rather than having any particular one existing in isolation.
The training required when moving to hybrid cloud
When moving to hybrid cloud, it was important to focus on upskilling existing employees and to hire employees with experience to smooth the transition. Network Rail used 2 training approaches:
- technical training - Microsoft Azure, VMware, Splunk and other new technologies
- non-technical training - agile delivery training to assist in delivering projects consistently
As their hybrid cloud strategy expands, Network Rail is planning and running more training as an ongoing activity.
The providers Network Rail used to implement its hybrid cloud approach
Private data centre technologies
Network Rail is initially using Dell Technologies, specifically Dell EMC and VMware, for its private data centre technologies.
Network Rail chose Dell Technologies because it:
- fitted well with Network Rail’s skills and support
- integrated with Network Rail’s security tools and operations
- gave value for money
- had a range of technologies designed to work together, which minimised the integration costs
Public cloud technology
For the public cloud technology, Network Rail considered Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.
While AWS offered a greater range of functionality, Network Rail chose Microsoft Azure because Network Rail could integrate Azure easily with Office 365.
Network Rail will not remain with these providers indefinitely. A hybrid cloud approach is iterative and Network Rail plans to adjust its suppliers as its business needs change.
Measuring the impact of moving to a hybrid cloud approach
These metrics are not exhaustive and Network Rail will continue to add to them to help measure the impact of its hybrid cloud strategy.
Once delivery and migration are nearer completion, Network Rail will measure:
- the proportion of investment for long term versus short term goals
- the proportion of systems using the strategic technology platforms
- project costs and timescales
- how much service and support cost
- the ratio of public versus private cloud technologies
- the capacity and efficiency for Network Rail to react to new innovation opportunities
Network Rail will use the results of these measures to inform tactical and strategic decisions and measure the impact of the hybrid cloud investment and the benefits delivered.
How Network Rail resolved challenges they encountered
When preparing to switch to hybrid cloud, Network Rail anticipated a number of the challenges that might arise and planned how to deal with them.
Stakeholder management and culture
There were challenges that took longer than expected, for example stakeholder management. Change is always difficult in any company, especially a large one like Network Rail with different legacy technologies. There were stakeholder questions such as ‘what are the risks with public cloud?’ and ‘what are the implications for the workforce?’.
Network Rail overcame these by being transparent about the move to the hybrid cloud. This included helping to resolve any concerns the stakeholders had and highlighting the benefits hybrid cloud could bring.
As with any government department or arm’s length body, there are regulations to comply with when changing technologies, especially with a change such as a move to hybrid cloud. Network Rail has to adhere to these regulations when onboarding new suppliers and is developing a work stream to make the process more efficient. For example, Network Rail has developed systems to pre-qualify and select supplier bidders more quickly.
Network Rail had pockets of legacy technology which were still used regularly. Network Rail had to find a solution which would result in a smooth transition from the old to the new technology.
As a result, Network Rail runs programmes (for example redesigning the systems to work on more modern technologies) to remove or mitigate the impact of these legacy technologies. Network Rail also has an isolated zone for its legacy systems with licensing restrictions. These legacy systems cannot run on the cloud so Network Rail is storing them in isolation until they can work out how best to manage them.
Timelines in implementing Network Rail’s hybrid cloud approach
Implementing a hybrid cloud approach is a long-term project, especially when Network Rail is implementing other major technology projects from its Transformation Strategy.
Below is Network Rail’s timeline for implementing a hybrid cloud approach:
- mid-2017: Network Rail mapped out the Network Rail IT strategy
- early 2019: Network Rail undertook discovery work, onboarded new service partners and chose its technologies
- March 2019: scheduled deployment of the strategy’s first output: the core connectivity for the public cloud environment
- beyond 2019: commissioning, migrating and automating its services to public and private cloud and enhancing Network Rail’s cyber-security protections
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