As the Scottish Government’s Agriculture and Rural Economy (ARE) Directorate migrates to a multi-cloud environment, its IT team is deploying F5 networking solutions that enable it to partner with more than one cloud provider, while protecting this new infrastructure with best-in-class security solutions.
If you spot a drone flying over the Scottish Highlands, don’t be surprised. These days it is likely to be flown by the Scottish Government’s Agricultural and Rural Economy Directorate to verify the boundaries of remote agricultural properties.
This information is vital for the Directorate, which plays a vital role in Scottish agriculture. Drones are just one of the advanced technologies, used to determine subsidy applications made by some 22,000 farms and agricultural businesses who receive payouts worth $1 billion per year.
The way that funds are allocated to farmers has also been transformed in recent years. Instead of calculating payments according to the size of the farming area, the focus is now on environmental outcomes with farmers rewarded for adopting sustainable practices. As well as drones, the Directorate is looking at the possibility of using satellites to estimate carbon storage in hedges and trees grown on farmland.
But for all the talk of aerial technology, Neill Smith, Head of Infrastructure, ARE Directorate, has his feet firmly on the ground. Security and availability are the guiding principles when it comes to the organization’s IT environment. Customers are equally important. “Our principal client is the Scottish Government, but a big measure of success is feedback from the agricultural community,” he says. “If they are happy with the accuracy and timeliness of subsidy payments, then we’ve done a good job.”
This philosophy has served the Directorate well, as has its choice of IT partners who helped the organization throughout its digital transformation journey. F5 played a crucial role in enabling the Directorate to fulfill stringent security and delivery requirements. Products like BIG-IP Access Policy Manager play a vital role helping ensure the rural payments application's high security without compromising user-friendliness.
Now the Directorate is migrating most of its infrastructure to a multi-cloud environment with F5 once more ensuring the availability of business-critical applications and networks. “I’ve always believed that business requirements should dictate your technology, not the other way round,” says Smith. “Thanks to F5 we will be able to take full advantage of a secure cloud environment with none of the risks associated with cloud-vendor lock in.”
Phase one of the migration involves moving the Directorate’s virtual server and virtual desktop infrastructure to VMware Cloud on AWS. This will enable it to decommission its existing on-premises datacenters and hardware. During Phase two, the Directorate plans to containerize much of its infrastructure and run it on Kubernetes enabling it to branch out to other cloud providers.
Here, the Directorate is developing a solution based on F5’s family of Distributed Cloud solutions. Smith says, “We can already see the potential for F5 multi-cloud networking solutions, to connect our clouds, services, apps, and APIs, with consistent security policies and visibility across all our assets.”
Testing and development includes F5’s multi-cloud networking (MCN), which extends application and security services across one or more public clouds, hybrid deployments, native Kubernetes environments, and edge sites. “The ability to consume or to move your workloads depends on smart technology that stitches together these networking components. That’s why F5 plays an important role in our cloud migration strategy,” says Smith.
Smith's ultimate goal is to transition to a multi-cloud, containerized environment that operates independently of specific hyper-scalers. He highlights a successful proof of concept with MCN, illustrating the capability to seamlessly transfer workloads between Kubernetes OpenShift and Amazon EKS (Elastic Kubernetes Service). This also underscores the platform's operational flexibility.
Security is an equal priority. F5 provided the Directorate with a first line of defense for several years through its managed Silverline Web Application Firewall solution and Secure Web Gateway Services. “You can’t put a price on security,” says Smith. “Silverline has been indispensable for monitoring and mitigating threats, and when we renew our license, we plan to adopt Distributed Cloud Web App Firewall to deploy advanced security in a multi-cloud environment.”
Smith also expects to deploy Distributed Cloud API Security, which protects against threat actors attempting to exploit APIs to facilitate a breach or services outage. Smith asserts that API Security will enable the Directorate to discover and map APIs, prevent unauthorized connections, and implement optimal API practices.
Migrating to a distributed multi-cloud environment will bring a huge amount of freedom to the IT team. It will no longer be constrained to one platform and can choose best-in-class services from platforms including AWS, Microsoft Azure, and others. Smith points to Power BI, Microsoft's data visualization software, as an example. He states that the majority of their cloud workloads are currently hosted on AWS. “But with F5 we can plug in to Azure and consume Power BI which is our preferred data insights tool.”
F5 also delivers when providing a secure environment for app-to-app interconnection and consistent policy enforcement across all platforms. “We get the best of both worlds,” says Smith. “We have detailed control and visibility over our apps, without increasing complexity. F5 provides full web app and API protection (WAAP) as well as individual security services.”
Another goal is to be hyper-scaler independent. Smith can already see the potential for F5 Distributed Cloud Services, to enable the Directorate to choose the best hyper-scaler for each specific workload. This would enable it to scale resources up or down quickly without being limited by the capabilities of one provider.
Vendor independence also means that the Directorate can take advantage of competitive pricing models from different cloud providers and avoid lock in, which can lead to higher costs in the long run.
Smith also stresses the important role of the F5 account and technical support teams. Together, they’ve built a strong partnership that goes beyond just purchasing and renewals—it’s built on trust. He also appreciates the insights that F5 brings to the Directorate.
“F5 completely understands our purpose and our technology roadmap,” says Smith. “Unlike some vendors, the F5 team only knocks on the door when they have advice or software that is relevant to our journey.”
Last of all, Smith emphasizes how F5 enables organizations to adapt quickly to infrastructure innovations and opportunities. “Multi-cloud environments are here to stay,” says Smith. “With F5, we can pivot and take advantage of a containerized, Kubernetes environment with a full complement of services and solutions that support this move.”
Partnership with F5 also enables the Directorate to prepare for the next generation of applications and networking with confidence. “By stripping complexity out of our IT infrastructure, we can double down on advanced technologies that better serve our customers, from drones and satellites to AI and machine learning,” says Smith. “F5 gives us complete peace of mind for the future.”