Industries4 min read

Taming Cloud Costs Helps Combat Global Health Crisis

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced dramatic changes on the global healthcare system, hospitals, clinicians, and medical staff increased their reliance on digital technology for communication, diagnosis and treatment, and to develop innovative—often novel—digital healthcare services.

In the first months after the onset of the pandemic when social distancing proved to be the only effective tactic to avoid exposure, the UK government launched an ambitious testing and contact tracing program to help keep the population safe. Called the NHS Test & Trace Halo app, the Bluetooth-enabled smartphone solution gave individuals a powerful tool to help track and mitigate their exposure to the virus—and when vaccines were deployed in 2021—the ability to schedule vaccinations and supply digital verification of vaccination status.

Developed by the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the NHS Test & Trace Halo solution saw regular use by 28 percent of the UK population. Epidemiological studies revealed that each person who consented to contact tracing helped prevent at least one infection, and for every percentage point increase in app uptake, the infection rate dropped by 0.8 percent, delivering increasingly more effective infection reduction over time, preventing an estimated one million cases.

Transforming healthcare with digital innovation

Inventing one of the world’s first digital testing and contact tracing systems was just the beginning of the organization’s information technology transformation. Charged by the UK government to protect the population from infectious diseases and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards, the UKHSA confronted momentous challenges as the urgency of the pandemic drove the healthcare system’s IT operations onto emergency footing.

Aligned with the UK government’s “Cloud First” policy that mandates all new IT provisioning be hosted on a public cloud, UKHSA launched a multi-cloud platform built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. To accommodate the NHS Test & Trace solution, UKHSA quickly deployed its cloud native Test & Trace solution directly to the AWS cloud platform, a configuration that hosts more than 90 workloads, 200 AWS accounts, and 25,000 simultaneous users. At peak usage, the solution accommodated more than 25 million UK logins.

While cloud resources offer myriad benefits—including reduced costs—realizing those returns demands astute and careful management. Having built a large multi-cloud estate, UKHSA needed a multi-cloud management solution to control its disparate assets from a single pane, one that could scale to integrate other cloud assets in future and deliver operational and financial accountability to tame the unexpected costs common to cloud services.

Taming unexpected cloud costs

UKHSA worked with VMware Professional Services to develop a cloud financial operations (FinOps) framework to guide the development of the agency’s cloud environment. Beginning with CloudHealth by VMware, the organization now uses VMware Tanzu CloudHealth to manage its multi-cloud environment, revealing situational awareness and taming cross-cloud complexity from AWS to Azure. The AI/ML enabled solution allows UKHSA to discern where and how to tame the unexpected costs of cloud spending.

“I’d worked with CloudHealth in the past in a similar environment, with rapid growth, sensitive medical data, many different parties to align, and a pressing need to control costs,” says Jonny da Silva, head of DevOps and cloud lead for UKHSA. “I knew this was the most comprehensive cloud management solution that could take our cloud ambitions to the next level.”

The solution allows da Silva and his team to reduce unnecessary spending, an imperative for an IT organization accountable to the UK government. “I wanted to cost-optimize the platform so there would be zero running costs from our side,” says da Silva. In the first month, the solution identified more than USD $120,000 in savings, and pinpointed more than USD $4,500 in zombie assets. And by tagging more than 1,500 untagged assets, the UKHSA achieved da Silva’s target of zero run costs for the platform in less than six months. “VMware Tanzu CloudHealth allows us to prove that we’re managing cloud costs and providing visibility across the business,” says da Silva. “It’s like a real-time bank statement.”

Becoming the center of cloud excellence for the DHSC

The success of the cloud management solution allows UKHSA to serve its own needs and to offer its resources—as UKHSA Cloud—as a central store for DHSC and associated agencies in the healthcare sector. “It’s central to having a continuous focus on service and efficiency,” says da Silva. “Our goal is to become a one-stop shop for DHSC cloud needs.” Now hospitals and other healthcare organizations can provision cloud resources directly from UKHSA, ending the need to shop with the major cloud providers.

Working as the central clearinghouse for cloud resources allows UKHSA Cloud to realize economies of scale, cost reductions and efficiency gains in consumption and provision. “Going forward, we need to dig deep into our cloud activity. VMware Tanzu CloudHealth enables us to understand direct and indirect costs, configuration and how the cloud platform is being used,” says da Silva. “With greater volumes we can negotiate better rates with different cloud providers, and there will be far less bureaucracy dealing with UKHSA Cloud directly.”

With UKHSA acquiring and delivering most of the cloud resources for the DHSC and healthcare sector, all the benefits it realizes for its own infrastructure are replicable across other UK agencies. Operating as a Cloud Centre of Excellence (CCoE), UKHSA can guide other agencies on their IT infrastructure and consumption, supplying standard governance models across all resources for security and compliance, risk detection and other potential security threats. Each of these is essential for healthcare information security and medical records privacy.

For all its operations, VMware Tanzu CloudHealth gives UKHSA the capability to streamline cloud operations with real-time operational metrics and reports. This helps the team identify performance issues, manage resource use, and improve operational efficiency, keeping it prepared for the future.

“We don’t know the nature of the next health threat,” says da Silva, “but we know our systems are ready for whatever the future may hold.”

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