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Why we’ve decided to decommission GOV.UK PaaS (Platform as a Service)

Graphic of a laptop with a blank digital service on the screen. The background is a cloud to represent hosting and a padlock to represent security. This is the logo from the GOV.UK PaaS page on GOV.UK.

GDS is committed to supporting and building platform products that make it simpler, easier and faster for other parts of government to build good digital services. This means continuing to invest in GOV.UK Notify, GOV.UK Pay, the GOV.UK Design System, and the Prototype Kit, as well as building new platforms like the new GOV.UK Forms product.

We also need to operate with a growth mindset in GDS. This means constantly evaluating the market, and making sure that our products and services are fulfilling a need and are seeing usage expand. Our growth strategy is obviously not about making profit, but we are a small team at the centre of government and we need to make sure our people and our money are focused on services that have the biggest reach and the most impact.

GOV.UK PaaS was set up in 2015, to help public sector organisations quickly and securely host their digital services without worrying about infrastructure. However, 7 years is a long time in tech and things have changed. The big cloud providers (AWS, Azure, GCP and others) have upped their game and reduced the barriers to entry for digital teams. Over the same period departments have built better and more expert in-house cloud engineering capability, and are (broadly) clustering around a Kubernetes based architecture.

GOV.UK PaaS has not seen the rapid and continued growth that we’ve seen with some of our other platform products, and is now at a point where we either invest heavily in some significant technical architecture changes, or we make the difficult decision to sunset the product. We have decided to do the latter, and GOV.UK PaaS will be decommissioned over the next 18 months.

In parallel, we are starting a piece of joint work with the Central Digital & Data Office, in partnership with Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) across government, to understand what a future central hosting offer could or should be. We don’t know what we’ll conclude, the options ranging from doing nothing, to creating a reusable set of configuration and management components (similar to the GOV.UK Design System, but for secure cloud hosting) all the way through to building a new PaaS v2 using different architecture.

Celebrating GOV.UK PaaS

We’re rightly proud of the work that’s been done on GOV.UK PaaS since its launch in 2015. The team who built and run the service are passionate, committed and quite brilliant. It was the right product at that time. Our web hosting service has enabled more than 60 departments, agencies and local authorities to support 172 digital services.

It has enjoyed uptime of 99.95%, and suffered only one major incident in its 7 years. All this while tenants deployed services more than 122 times a day, made up of 3,200 applications.

At the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, GOV.UK PaaS helped new services to be spun up quickly. It also enabled GOV.UK Notify to scale rapidly to handle an increase in messaging volume, enabling them to send an average 400 messages per second, with a peak of 15 million notifications in a day.

GOV.UK PaaS has been a great product, led by a fantastic team. The focus now is on supporting our tenants through the decommission process and reflecting on our future in this space.

If you have any questions, you can get in touch with us.

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  1. Comment by Stu posted on

    > The big cloud providers (AWS, Azure, GCP and others) have upped their game and reduced the barriers to entry for digital teams.

    What is the roadmap for all the existing sites on PaaS, or will they be kept on in a legacy capacity ?

    Are there examples of sites that have been developed on those other platforms that would have been on PaaS previously ?

    • Replies to Stu>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Stu,

      Government uses multiple providers for cloud hosting, including the platforms you've mentioned. We are supporting tenants by understanding their data migration needs and providing documentation on things to consider when choosing an alternative provider. Departments make their own decisions in line with the Technology Code of Practice.

      The GDS Team

  2. Comment by Mateusz Lapsa-Malawski posted on

    Gov PaaS (Team), you will be greatly missed.
    You provided the best Developer Experience (DX) in the government I have ever seen.
    You've enabled so many critical deliveries to happen on time.

  3. Comment by Ross Ferguson posted on

    The post on this big decision is appreciated. Nice to see figures about success of PaaS - could you also share the downturn/drop-off figures informing the retirement decision? Would really help others running gov services know what to look out for.

    • Replies to Ross Ferguson>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Ross,

      Thanks for the message. We’re not in a position to share those figures at this time. However we are looking at how we can share further insights from the user research and analysis we’ve done over the last years (including service usage) so that other government teams can benefit from our learnings.

      The GDS Team

  4. Comment by Rory posted on

    Proud to have been involved, sad to see it go. So long hyper secure mega cloud o'wonderment.

  5. Comment by Alex posted on

    Presumably it's budget cuts and the ideological position from Government that it should all be done on private systems to enable profit taking.

    • Replies to Alex>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Alex,

      Leading the transformation of digital services sometimes means that retiring a service is the best option to meet wider user needs in the long run, even if the service has been successful. GDS will continue to build tools to make it simpler and cheaper for the government to build quality digital services for users.

      The GDS Team

  6. Comment by Huw Pritchard posted on

    I don't know much about this project, but it takes courage to recognise when something has outlived its usefulness and it eating up scarce resource

    Then to take a dispassionate assessment of its future value, and, in this case, to pull the plug on it

  7. Comment by Jim Conner posted on

    I'm shedding a tear for the end of the wonderful GovUK PaaS Service. This was truly a great product and operating model. Such a shame that it'll be going away.

  8. Comment by Hector posted on

    It is sad news. The level of professionalism driven by this team was huge. And despite the underlying technology being deprecated, I really think there is a HUGE business case for a PaaS like this in government, that eliminates the barriers, operational overhead and feedback loops for services.

    Not only big projects, but the long tail of services is enormous and the potential savings is huge.

    As you explain, this offered a great opportunity: "GOV.UK PaaS helped new services to be spun up quickly". The reality of gov services is that, LOTS of small services, not necessarily with lots of traffic with little operational capacity and reduced budget that need some hosting and be spun up quickly. And a platform like this can cope with big loads: "enabled GOV.UK Notify to scale rapidly to handle an increase in messaging volume"

    Yes, the cloud providers are improving the offering, but there is still a lot of boilerplate, learning curves and entry effort. Instead, an equivalent solution to PaaS feature wise can be built on top of more modern stacks like kubernetes. Something that can be maintained for longer and is more attractive for internal engineers. Regardless if it is picking something off-the-shelf of building something themselves.

    But unfortunately such solution requires a lot of will and good product leadership across all Gov.

    • Replies to Hector>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi Hector,

      Thank you for your feedback. We are looking forward to working with departments to understand what the future of cloud hosting in government could look like.

      The GDS Team

  9. Comment by Michael Stevenson posted on

    Devastated to be honest. I really loved the Platform and we where basing all our future work on paas.

  10. Comment by James posted on

    Does anyone else find it disconcerting that the UK Government will be hosting their infrastructure with US hosting providers?

    • Replies to James>

      Comment by The GDS Team posted on

      Hi James,

      Thanks for your comment. GDS uses the Cabinet Office centrally-procured hosting suppliers that comply with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) cloud security principles. Each department makes their own decision on how to host their services. The NCSC provides a unified source of advice, guidance and support on cyber security for both government and industry.

      The GDS Team

      • Replies to The GDS Team>

        Comment by Owen Sayers posted on

        Its a basic (and common) error to say something like “the suppliers complies with the NCSC Principles”, but I’m surprised to year GDS say it.
        The purpose and use if the principles is to enable and oblige consumers to examine the services for fit to their context of operations.
        This includes elements specific to sectors like mandatory personnel vetting types or jurisdictions of legislation.
        Allowing - and promoting - CSP’s to say “we are compliant” promulgates the falsehood that any cloud can in fact “comply with” the NCSC Principles.

        It does however explain how a cloud provider ONLY using US FedRAMP clouds which process all data in the US can be allowed to offer services through Digital Marketplace to a sector legally prohibited from sending personal data outside of the UK except in specific case by case circumstances…

      • Replies to The GDS Team>

        Comment by Laura Rutter posted on

        Excuse me, your product speaking up real quick.
        2030 will NOT be happening.

  11. Comment by Abhi Markan posted on

    Gov PaaS you will be missed with a doubt.

  12. Comment by Terry Jackson posted on

    Tom, just to add I've forwarded this thread to Wikimedia UK to consider it in line with their 2030 strategy and engagement with NHS Digital and NIHR. More later...

  13. Comment by Simon posted on

    This is heart breaking. A fantastic product and team which made deploying safe secure apps so incredibly simple. Gutted.