UKCloud Health offers 'open, sovereign' cloud to NHS ecosystem

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright May 9, 2017
UKCloud Health launches today to offer what it says is an open, collaborative and sovereign public cloud to the NHS ecosystem

Simon Hansford CEO at UKCloud Health launch event 2017-05 370px
CEO Simon Hansford at UKCloud Health launch

Fast-growing UK public sector cloud provider UKCloud launches a new division today to serve the UK health market. UKCloud Health aims to emulate the provider's track record in the UK government sector, where it has become the dominant infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider via the G-Cloud framework, with a 37% market share.

UKCloud Health will sell to pharmaceutical companies, research sector and private providers in addition to the publicly owned National Health Service (NHS), which dominates healthcare provision in the UK. A significant proportion of sales will therefore be outside of G-Cloud, which is not open to private sector buyers, and which some NHS buyers prefer not to use.

The decision to target a broad ecosystem of healthcare organizations emphasizes the cloud provider's ability to act as a neutral shared platform, says CEO Simon Hansford, who briefed media yesterday in advance of today's announcement.

Collaboration is absolutely key in the healthcare market. All of these different entities are sharing data, sharing patient records. The ability to securely collaborate has been totally key.

Data residency

UKCloud is also talking up its credentials as a "sovereign," wholly UK-owned public cloud provider, with infrastructure entirely based in the UK. This avoids data residency and other issues that arise when dealing with US-owned IaaS market leaders such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. Hansford says:

The generalists, the hyperscalers, although they're doing tremendously well, they're a one-size-fits-all model. It's a 'made in California' model. For some markets, the 'made in California' model is just not attractive. It's a single contract, take it or leave it. It's a single pricing, in US dollars, so you're affected by currency fluctuations, etcetera.

UKCloud believes its commitment to providing an open, vanilla platform without proprietary add-on services is also distinctive compared to the US giants. Hansford explains:

In the UK public sector, our message about no lock-in is starting to resonate very highly. I think it's taken some time but we're now seeing CIOs in some of the big departments really understanding that the Americans — the Amazons and Azures — are proprietary technology stacks. So if you end up writing an application to Amazon, you start using feature sets that are unique to AWS.

In a year's time, naively, the CIOs used to think, 'Well I'll just move that application to Azure, to someone else, if they're cheaper or if they provide better service.' I think they're now suddenly realizing, actually lower down in their organization, their developers use this proprietary feature set, and they're no longer able to suddenly move an application to a competing platform.

Although we've been banging on about that for three years, I think the first examples in government are actually realizing that message is true and therefore openness — government is all about open procurement, open data — they are realizing the lock-in message is very important.

Customers and partners

UKCloud Health hits the ground running today, with 30 customers already signed up to the platform. That figure includes many existing UKCloud customers, but also adds some new names, such as the Devon Partnership NHS Trust, that have specifically signed up to the new division.

There are also 29 partners from across the healthcare spectrum, including names such as Babylon, CapGemini, Carelink, Docman, Informatica, MDS, PretaGov, Siemens Healthineers and Wiggly-Amps. Other significant names will be added in the coming days and weeks once they've completed contract paperwork, says Hansford, who emphasizes the importance of supporting a broad ecosystem:

The feedback as we go into the wider healthcare industry is there is a massive need for an open, interoperable, collaborative platform. We believe that goes beyond the NHS.

Clearly in the UK, the National Health Service is at its core, but the NHS today isn't one body. The way it is built between trusts and health authorities and care trusts etcetera, it's actually a big behemoth in its own right.

But then there are the private health sector — the BUPAs, the SpecSavers, the Nuffields of the world, the Boots, the pharmacies, the Lloyds, etcetera. There's the pharmaceutical companies, and then right at the beginning is the research, whether they be universities or the Sanger Insitutes, the Wellcome Trusts, or many of the big charities that have massive research organizations.

So UKCloud Health will go beyond purely the public sector and work with the wider healthcare community from research and life sciences through health and care — the public/private providers — and then finally the pharmaceutical companies. Again, allowing that data to take its journey from research through pharmaceuticals into health and care.

Genomics England is an established UKCloud customer that illustrates this point. It runs the 100,000 Genomes Project, the largest national sequencing project of its kind in the world. This allows hospitals and clinics to contribute DNA data over the NHS's N3 national broadband network, which is then securely accessed as anonymized data by researchers.

Collaborative platform

Using a shared infrastructure platform provides a single, scalable resource that hospitals and other NHS bodies can access simply and easily, without the need to transfer huge quantities of data between different data centers.

The collaborative nature of this type of work also plays to UKCloud's messaging as an open platform.

What we're hearing back consistently is that the healthcare market want an open platform. A platform that doesn't lock them in, that allows them to move applications, move data, move providers. They want choice there, they don't want lock-in. They want collaboration ...

Our goal is to be the power behind the people that innovate — because the innovators are our partners, that are developing these new apps — and integration across the public sector.

Catering for the entire ecosystem also broadens the new division's addressable market, roughly doubling its size compared to NHS spend alone. It's early days, however, for cloud provision to this market, with just 2% moving to the cloud, compared to 8% in the government sector. But UKCloud will be able to bring its experience of selling to government into the healthcare sector, including an emphasis on market education, says Hansford.

Meanwhile, UKCloud is making a significant investment in dedicated marketing and sales resources to ensure the new division achieves the same kind of growth the provider has seen in existing sectors. Hansford believes its proven appeal there will be equally attractive in the healthcare sector, even against the US public cloud giants.

All of these parties, the message we're hearing back from them is sovereignty, openness, and interoperability is key to them. Because citizens, patients, are concerned about data ...

Although the giants are helping stimulate and create the market, I think they're got some very big hurdles. I think the open platform is the most important. People do not want to get locked in. We are realizing that that is an issue. All the issues that we talk about around sovereignty and data privacy etcetera are absolutely key. It's that no lock-in, ultimately, that's very important.

My take

An astute move into an important market that's in dire need of sensible cloud provision.