The Scottish Government is keen to automate as many services as possible. This leads to a demand for new applications which in turn creates a need to spin up environments quickly, including virtual machines and middleware.
Enter, VMware. The devolved assembly has been a customer of VMware for more than a decade, increasing its use during that time. Neill Smith, Head of Infrastructure in the Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate, says:
VMware has given us the ability to be flexible and to expand, whereas previously, in a physical world, that demand had becoming challenging. We have a large demand for applications. In a VMware environment, it’s quite easy to carve up the compute. So, we react to business challenges quickly, particularly from a political aspect.
On a day-to-day basis, Smith says VMware technology gives internal IT professionals the infrastructure flexibility they need to serve users effectively. By using virtualization, his team can install applications safely and securely:
We're fundamentally a software house. We develop in-house applications that we expose externally to other people, mainly farmers. We use virtualization and Horizon for our developers and our testers. We have about 300 users on that platform. So, we have our own network with our own infrastructure, where we can put our tools, and that platform supports innovation and creativity…We'll spin up virtual servers automatically. We automatically harden them, we'll deploy the middleware, and then we'll present it to the teams to deploy the code. The ability to spin up entire environments quickly and on demand is a huge benefit.
This scalable approach is a sharp break from the past when the team was reliant on physical hardware. Users who required additional compute would have to go through a procurement exercise, which could take weeks to complete. Now, new resources are provided quickly, which Smith believes has helped his team to overcome the cultural challenges that are often associated to new technology:
Humans are resistant to change. And I've seen that throughout the years across various projects. But the VMware piece was relatively straightforward. There wasn't much resistance. People were able to see the benefits pretty quickly because we were able to deal with their requests.
While the ability to add resources easily is crucial to the government, user requirements must be managed effectively:
We have the ability to carve up infrastructure. People think VMware is like just magic and you can give them anything at any point in time. It certainly looks that way, but, actually, it’s like an elastic band. If you stretch and stretch and stretch, it will break. And that breaking point means you need to manage resources.
Smith says his approach is focused on giving his people the ability to experiment and the opportunity to foster a culture of creativity in a public-serving organization that might not traditionally have been seen as a center of innovation:
If you're doing something over and over again, automate it. And if you automate it, that gives your people more free time to be innovative and creative, which they love and makes them happier.
There’s a sustainability angle in play as well. The Scottish Government has its own data center, based in Edinburgh, but the aim is to shut this resource down through 2026. As part of the shift towards green IT, the government is keen to push departments and users to the cloud. Smith explains:
We're looking at moving our VDI workloads into VMware on AWS. That’s part of a big strategic plan and I’d like to think that work will be done by the end of next year. As part of that process, we'll be switching to Linux desktops on VDI.
We can allow developers to start consuming AWS-native services over the elastic network interface. So, we can start to drip feed them slow training and they can also start to expose more AWS services as they begin to scale up.
When it comes to the ongoing development of the VMware implementation, Smith says he’s keen to explore the Tanzu Application Platform, especially how its tools can be used to change the culture surrounding application implementation across government:
I want to involve Tanzu in the software supply chain, so the business gets a quicker path to go-live and we create a hugely efficient service. If I can implement a change in culture – where we will have the software supply chain with proper platform engineering, and developers can just use an internal development platform – then the business can get what it wants much more effectively.