The UK Ministry of Labor and Pensions says it has managed to reduce the time it takes to deploy its cloud services from hours to 15 minutes by automating key implementation steps and working on a common container orchestration platform.
Established in 2001, DWP is responsible for various public services in the United Kingdom, including various social assistance, pension and child support schemes, which serve up to 22 million claimants per year.
Demand for its services increased during the pandemic with rising unemployment, sparking a desire in various function development teams to accelerate deployment and respond to this changing demand.
Creating a common cloud platform
Starting 18 months ago, DWP Digital, which employs 5,000 people and is responsible for the technology state of the department, turned to Red Hat to explore how a common layer of its OpenShift container management platform could enable all engineers to consistently deploy their microservices in one platform, regardless of the basic infrastructure.
“Over and over again, we’ve seen teams want to adopt cloud ways of working, but we wanted Red Hat to help us collaborate on a common platform and open source ways,” Dean Clark, DWP Digital’s technical manager, told InfoWorld.
Historically, DWP has managed technology assets through stand-alone teams running its applications both on-site and in a combination of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure public cloud platforms.
This included a bunch of self-governing Kubernetes circles. “Everyone maintained an environment they would manage, even if it was an AWS service,” Clark said. In response, DWP Digital began looking for a more general platform, built on OpenShift and managed by what they call a “team of experts” from different sectors.
“There was a lot of cognitive workload on the pipeline and artifact building teams,” Jackie Leggetter, head of integration at DWP Digital, told InfoWorld. “We have learned that we are repeating things and we can alleviate this cognitive burden and release it to provide better results for citizens.”
However, transmitting a platform from above will never work in such a large variety of previously autonomous teams. “People will throw stones,” Legheter said. “You have to create together and the central team is working very hard on cooperation. The key to the success of this common platform is to create a community around the core team. “
Automated books to speed up delivery
On top of that, DWP wanted to use Ansible’s automation tool to write recurring developer books, “to speed up our delivery path, be consistent, and eliminate repetitive tasks we’ve seen for feature teams,” he said. Legether.
By focusing heavily on building event-driven APIs, combined with these textbooks, DWP has succeeded in creating a “consistent user interface with better availability in departments for reusing modules and textbooks,” Clark said.
By automating tasks such as building an environment and constantly monitoring and alerting, DWP developers can now build and update their microservices faster.
For example, when the UK government made changes to Universal Credit last year, DWP Digital was able to build and launch a new API for automated authentication in three weeks, as opposed to five or six months. work on the old model.
Building a common platform
Although DWP as a whole is not yet close to launching all its applications in containers and deploying through a common internal platform for developers, this is largely the goal.
“They are not all in this place, but now we have the reference architecture to take us there,” said Legheter. As part of this, each new service must be built as a microservice using an event-driven API and deployed as an OpenShift container, with existing systems moving to this architecture at their own pace.
“We have a long way to go with the number of systems, including arguing with some of our legacy systems – including those written in COBOL – where opening data on these API platforms will help us catch up with new services,” Legate .
DWP accelerates the upgrade of its application
One of these existing systems is the COBOL application, which supports the job search allowance in the United Kingdom, which had migrated from a mainframe environment by transforming the “like for better” to the object-oriented Micro Focus COBOL in 2020.
“It was an intense time to migrate a benefits service application that was beginning to see an avalanche of claims over the way Covid hit the country,” said Mark Bell, head of the Virtual Machine Environment Change Program (VME-R). ) at DWP, told InfoWorld last year.
Where updates to the old monolithic COBOL systems could only be implemented once or twice a year, today smaller, more regular changes can be made by the DWP development team. These developers can also begin experimenting in the Amazon Web Services development / testing environment by building a set of reusable APIs to discover key data sources and push changes through the CI / CD pipeline.
DWP Digital says its success in combining containerization with automated textbooks has led other UK government teams to be curious about the use of these types of cloud technologies.
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