Revealing the value of IT investments will help form the path to the cloud

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After spending 15 years working across four agencies in executive IT roles, Steve Grewal said moving apps and data to the cloud depends on a few important factors.

Whether agencies are using on-premise or off-premise cloud services, Grewal, who joined Cohesity as its chief technology officer in March, said agencies have to drive consistency across providers to ultimately be successful.

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The former deputy chief information officer for the General Services Administration said he’s learned a few things during his time in government that agencies should keep in mind to make the transition to the cloud simpler.

“There certainly is a difference between cloud native apps and apps that aren’t quite cloud native. Legacy applications that are designed and architected not to run in the cloud probably are not your best candidates to move the cloud. I’d say pay close attention to refactoring, re-platforming as a prerequisite before you move to the cloud is key, otherwise you may do some workload migration into the cloud, but in terms of the true benefits of what the cloud has to offer you may not get that,” Grewal said in an “exit” interview on Ask the CIO. “Cloud for the sake of cloud is certainly a mistake. Lift-and-shift migration from your on-premise data centers to the cloud will give you the same outcome that you’d experienced in your data centers.”

Steve Grewal recently joined Cohesity as its CTO after leaving as the deputy CIO at GSA.

Grewal said agencies should categorize the apps and systems to ensure they understand which ones can move to the cloud immediately, and which ones may need some help.

“Mature workloads that are delivered via software-as-a-service or areas that are proven like mail and collaboration and other common business processes should be no-brainers. CIOs at small, micro, mid-sized and large agencies should be looking at those opportunities and putting the right energy and effort behind those to take advantage of those migrations,” he said. “You certainly don’t want to be in a vendor lock-in scenario so don’t put your eggs all in one basket. Industry is now subscribing to the notion that we will have efficient on-premise data centers and we will leverage cloud providers as well. So as you are designing and investing in cloud, ensure your strategy is positioned to take advantage of both the cloud ecosystem and you are architecting on-premise to have some level of consistency. The whole notion of having a single pane of glass, orchestration and automation, where you can control how and where you want to provision your workloads.”

While Grewal’s recommendations may seem like a “cloud for beginners” guide, the number of agencies still only getting started with the technology and the push for IT modernization by the Trump administration means there still are a lot of questions about cloud.

A Federal News Radio survey of federal CIOs last fall found respondents ranked moving back-office and mission critical applications to the cloud behind cybersecurity, overall IT modernization and reducing the number of data centers.

CIO respondents also said they haven’t moved back-office applications such as those used for human resources, financial management, acquisition or record management to the cloud.

And the survey found CIOs want to move agency and mission specific apps are at the top of their priority lists to move to the cloud.

Additionally, IDC Government Insights also found federal investment in the cloud could reach $3.3 billion by 2021, up from an estimated $2.2 billion in 2017.

All of this data continues to demonstrate that many agencies are just at the beginning stages of their move to the cloud.

“Be mindful of the financial analysis. If you truly have an application that you can lift-and-shift and you can maintain the same level of performance and decrease cost, then it’s something you can entertain. However, I’d be careful about calculating total cost,” Grewal said. “Knowing what you are spending now and knowing what you will spend in the cloud is very important. Outside of the technical analysis, the costing is critical. Make sure you will save money it’s not just a talking point.”

Grewal, who also worked at the Education and Transportation departments during his federal career, said this is why the use of Technology Business Management (TBM) standards is so important to this effort.

Technology Business Management standards let agencies model and manage IT costs and services in order to better direct spending. The TBM framework includes a taxonomy to identify and discuss IT efforts and spending in order for the entire organization to understand.

Grewal helped implement TBM while he worked at GSA, and the Office of Management and Budget is emphasizing the use of TBM across agencies for their capital planning and investment control effort.

“TBM is all about visibility. IT organizations in government have a lot of variables, contracts, different sources of funding, the timelines to renewals and things so you have a very fragmented approach to cost management and cost accounting,” he said. “If we start to look more horizontally and the goal of TBM in government is for us to capture total cost of ownership end-to-end. At the end of the day, the goal is to have total cost of ownership visibility capturing all the components of a service you are delivering so you can make trade-offs, do more robust analysis and then also as budgets are getting tighter and tighter, understand where you have opportunities for consolidation.”

Todd Tucker, the vice president of research, standards and education for the TBM Council, said the interest in using the standards has been growing over the last year.

Tucker said the council helped train more than 400 federal and government contractor employees over the last year, and held nine training sessions in the Washington, D.C. area alone in 2017.

“The administration has done a lot to support the move to TBM. But I still hear a lot of complaints or concerns, that TBM is an unfunded mandate. I think many like the idea, and think it will help them do their jobs and make better decisions to get more value out of their IT spending, but they are worried about not having resources for it,” Tucker said. “But at the same time, because IT tends to be a point of leverage for any organization, if they don’t understand the costs and value of the technology, they could lose that leverage just as easily.”