Ridwaan Soomra, Vodacom Business.

The public sector faces the same barriers to cloud adoption as the private sector. There are security and compliance issues; there are issues of skill development and legacy costs, and how best to acquire cloud services. Meanwhile, the pandemic has seen a massive wave of cloud adoption around the world, including in South Africa.

The cloud journey often starts with the questions: What are you trying to do and what do you hope to achieve? Will there be cost savings? What cloud services will you use? And what changes will this mean for your operating model?

Brainstorming convened a roundtable in Polokwane to gauge the level of cloud adoption among public sector technology professionals, many of whom said they struggle with the more prosaic challenge of reliable connectivity.

Brainstorm: Where are you in the cloud journey and what do you hope it will bring you?

Sefrial Rachidi, IT Infrastructure Manager, Office of the Prime Minister of Limpoposays it uses Azure for Office 365 and backups.

Mothiba’s surprise, who joined the Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in February this year, says the department has also been using Office 365 on Azure since about 2020.

The biggest problem his department struggles with is communication.

Coogan Subramani, Vodacom Business.

Coogan Subramani, Vodacom Business.

“The journey (to the cloud) was a bit challenging and it meant we had to upgrade our data lines. However, cloud services are available. You can access your documents and email from anywhere.”

Asked if his department has a data center, he says they call it a server room and that it’s in the provincial office.

“I’m not sure if we’ve moved our Active Directory to the cloud, but I know that all security rules are centralized in the server room.”

Brainstorm: What are your immediate plans for the next year and a half?

Our biggest challenge is to solve the connectivity problem. If we can do that, we will be halfway to solving most of our problems.

Surprise Mothiba, Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Mothiba says that once the connectivity issue is resolved, she will be halfway to solving most of her problems.

“As a department, we don’t have much control over our WAN. Once we decide on connectivity, we can start the digital journey and digitize the entire department end-to-end. Digital travel in 2022 will be based on the cloud. It’s centrally managed, and that’s where the opportunity lies for cloud service providers.”

When asked if anyone else was having connectivity issues, many in the room said the problem was widespread across the province.

Earlier this year, the Department of Civil Service and Administration published a circular with recommendations on how government agencies should best adopt the cloud. The circular said, among other things, that the data must be classified according to minimum information security standards and that the data must always reside within South Africa. Heads of departments should ensure a cloud readiness assessment before moving to the cloud and prepare a business case.

Lutenda Tiuhafuni, Senior Manager, Applications Development, Government Information Technology Agency, says SITA has a hybrid cloud and can also provide cloud services from Azure, Oracle and IBM, Software AG and AWS.

“Everyone knows that the future of data storage and computing is in the cloud. People aren’t going to make a lot of investments in building and running data centers.”

Maropeng Segoapa, Bela-Bela Municipality.

Maropeng Segoapa, Bela-Bela Municipality.

In addition to SaaS, he says SITA also provides disaster recovery as a service.

Brainstorm: If a public sector entity wants to use the cloud, does it have to provide some sort of business case? What happens if they’ve been sweating on their servers in their data center or server room for five to eight years and now they’re starting to see some downtime? What should they do? Should I buy more servers?

People say they don’t want to use the cloud, but all these people have a Gmail account, and it’s email as a service, so you’re already using the cloud.”

Lutenda Thivkhafuni, State Information Technology Agency

Thiwhafuni says departments can provision and manage their servers from SITA’s data center.

“The intention is to move everything to the cloud. The service life of a server is approximately five years, and government departments use servers for 12 to 15 years.

“The problem you have is that you always need some capital to purchase these servers.”

Kugan Sobramani, Head of Vodacom Business in Limpopo, says that the connection coverage Mothiba is referring to is not Vodacom’s mobile network coverage, but a landline service.

“Surprise” has a regional office, six district offices and about 30 city offices. He needs to connect all these offices to his internal WAN. Once it connects to them, it will be able to move to the cloud. The problem is that there is no procurement department at this stage. It is very cumbersome. If he wants to connect 10 offices, he needs to tender, but we are working with SITA to see how we can facilitate that.

Matthew Burbidge, ITWeb Brainstorm.

Matthew Burbidge, ITWeb Brainstorm.

“The transition to the cloud is not easy, but it can be seamless. You can’t go for the big bang approach, you can try the hybrid, but you need connectivity if you’re going to go on this journey. The connection must be reliable and stable. You need a carrier-grade network to provide such services. Can you imagine a department with a thousand employees… moving all services to the cloud if you don’t have a reliable network? You can’t drive here from Gauteng on a potholed road.’

Maropeng Segoapa, IT Network Administrator from Bela-Bela Municipality, says that when he came there about seven months ago from the private sector, the municipality had a 10MB line that needed to be upgraded to 100MB. He says things can be frustrating at times in the slow-moving public sector.

“The servers are over eight years old, so we need to get things together to get us going, but we’re trying to move to the cloud.”

Charlotte Thabo, Assistant Director of ICT, Department of Education, Limpoposays they used a 100mb Vodacom line but it was “too slow”.

“We registered a call today; we are trying our best to migrate our users. It’s too slow. When we registered the call, they said we were using YouTube bandwidth; we tried blocking youtube but it’s still slow. We have more than 1,000 users, and some areas are still not connected.”

Bernard Bergstedt, Business Development Manager, Vodacom Business, says the company will review usage and then prioritize business-critical applications.

“We limit YouTube and Facebook to less than 1MB during business hours. People will get frustrated and learn not to use Facebook during business hours. Maybe you can set a lunch break rule to give them more bandwidth.’

Thivhafuni, from SITA, wants to talk about data security in the cloud, and says it’s sitting somewhere, but it is not known where.

“People are scared: Is my data safe? Can I get access? Can they see my emails or listen to my phone calls if you have a PBX in the cloud?”

I care about the cloud; we don’t know where our information goes.

Zwannda Ramadwa, Integrated Project Management

He adds that some public sector server administrators fear losing their jobs if cloud services are adopted.

“People say they don’t want to use the cloud, but all these people have a Gmail account, and it’s email as a service, so you’re already using the cloud. Don’t worry about Gmail.”

Brainstorm: Does anyone use their Gmail account for government business?

Zwannda Ramadwa, Director General, Integrated Project Management, wants to know where the information actually resides when using a cloud service.

“Who is responsible for this information? Is it available to everyone? When people use their private Gmail account, they trust Gmail. Government email should never be trusted. Gmail never stops. I care about the cloud; we don’t know where our information goes. Where is this cloud? Where is this information kept?”

Brainstorm: “It’s in the data center.”

Ramadwa: “Where is this data center?

Ridwaan Sumra, Managing Director of Vodacom in the Limpopo region, says that Gmail was one of the first cloud-based email solutions. “We trust Gmail, but we don’t want to move our own information to the cloud. I hear about the cost part, (so) is there a prepaid cloud option? Is there a guarantee that if I’m late with my payment, you won’t cut my service? The reality is that if we need the government and the country to support these types of decisions that make sense, we need to figure out how to bridge the gap in letting people know where information is stored and who is responsible for it.”

* This feature was first published in the September issue of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine.

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