FTC’s journey to the cloud moves into next phase of business process optimization

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When the Federal Trade Commission began its journey into the cloud more than four years ago, the plan was to move between 60% and 70% of all applications off premise.

Today, they not only surpassed that goal, but the agency measures success by how many servers they still have in their data centers.

Raghav Vajjhala, the chief information officer at the Federal Trade Commission, said that initial goal of moving to cloud services has evolved into one that is focused on business process modernization.

“Over the last five years, we’ve easily eliminated more than half of our internal footprint as we moved more and more of our workloads into the cloud. I think we really want to be as aggressive as we can over the next couple years,” Vajjhala said on Ask the CIO sponsored by Extreme Networks. “The key measure for us is if there is ever a significant event with our on-premise services, we just want to have an environment that’s positioned in a way that 99% of the agency’s work can just keep on humming and continuing to work.”

He said that discussion also includes how the FTC moves its security into the cloud, how they balance critical services between the cloud and on-premise and how they continue to learn how best to optimize business processes.

One recent example at the FTC upgraded one of its servers in the cloud to accept outside counsels’ submissions for their electronic filing program.

“We’re learning to do more and more with those other parties that we work with, outside the FTC. We’re learning how to build more and more services for us to do work and transact work electronically through these online services,” Vajjhala said. “We never have to touch our data center. So it’s not just a reflection of things that we can do internally, but also things that we can do externally with a lot of our key partners in law.”

Data, applications will remain on-premise

While the FTC will continue to put more workloads into the cloud, Vajjhala said it always will have some sort of on-premise presence.

“There’s always going to want to be a component of data that we want to retain internally, if nothing else. It used to be a couple years ago where you’d have this sense of confidence that if something’s in the cloud, we’ll be just fine. We don’t have to worry about recovering the data or anything like that. Well, it turns out that, we still have to have some of those concerns and have make sure we take some mitigation for that,” he said. “There are a couple things that we still want to do. But I would say if you if you rephrase the question, ‘hey, can we conduct nearly all of its work in the cloud?’ Yes, absolutely. I think that’s definitely the way we’d have to start thinking.”

That new way of thinking also is leading to the FTC upgrading its network backbone to use software-defined networking (SD-WAN) and its cybersecurity to achieve a zero trust architecture.

Vajjhala said the goal with SD-WAN is to improve network performance by not forcing applications or systems to come back through the on-premise data center.

“We want to really move all of our network orchestration and management into the cloud. I think that benefits our ability to manage it from anywhere, but more importantly, we have a nationwide workforce at the Federal Trade Commission and the big impact we hope to get out of software-defined networking is that regardless of where our customers are working here, in the United States or around the world, whenever they’re trying to access our systems and our data, it should be trivial for them, or any experience, that they might have that’s associated with network latency or distance or geography, trivial,” he said. “Really it’s two-fold, greatly easing our burden of administration of our network, and, in doing so, greatly ease and streamline and creating less friction for our customers to access our systems and data.”

One of the big benefits of the move to SD-WAN will be both the ability to secure and transmit data as well as the capability to add more compute power as the need arises.

Vajjhala said the FTC will rely on data and analytics to drive both of those needs.

“That alone is tremendously impactful for us and giving us a much, much better financial basis for how we manage our bandwidth needs,” he said. “It’s a combination of two things: One is it gives us the data to not only tune our environment, but it gives us the capability to use much more cost effective network transmission rates across our entire network. With that, we’re able to, to give ourselves more wiggle room. We don’t have to be so fine in terms of determining how much data we need. And that way, we give a lot more flexibility. We think about using software-defined networks, in terms of the data that it offers, and the cost effective that it offers, we really want to do it in a way that gives our customers the flexibility to do the work when they find it convenient for them. We want to actually try to use these advantages that we get from these new services so we don’t have to be in the situation that you talked about, where you have to tell your customer base, hey, ‘Thursday, that’s the day to do the really big file transfer day.’ We need to have a capability that allows the mission to proceed effectively and efficiently whenever called to do so.”

Security improvements and zero trust

Data also will impact the security side of SD-WAN and the cloud as well.

Vajjhala said the FTC will gain a much better capability to filter out the “noise” using SD-WAN.

“We will be able to isolate the expected encrypted traffic channels that we normally expect and monitoring that from a security perspective,” Vajjhala said. “In terms of getting data from point A to point B, the thing that we really are looking forward to is you want to have a reliable transmission and we don’t want to have just a single point of failure where there’s only one network connection into every edge appliance. The huge benefit of SDN is you’re able to get two or three different types of technologies connecting, so you have multiple routes or multiple ways to connect from point A to point B, then you might have had in prior types of technology.”

On the security side, Vajjhala said the move to the cloud and eventually SD-WAN will let the FTC be better prepared for zero-day attacks and other cyber threats.

“What we’ve been spending a lot of time on is understanding what the attackers do just like what our customers do, how are they you’re trying to get around our network and let’s set up all of our tools and resources to make sure we can pick up, hey, if someone needed has somehow managed to get into our network through a vulnerability from a zero-day attack, we got to be able to find out what are they doing before they’re able to do anything,” he said. “It’s taken us down a path where we really want to have you much more visibility and much more ability to take action on any indicator of an account that’s not acting in a way we normally expect it to.”

Join moderator Jason Miller, Vajjhala and Tragle as they discuss:

  • FTC’s cloud strategies
  • FTC’s cybersecurity capabilities
  • The benefits of SD-WAN
  • The industry perspective

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Featured speakers

  • Raghav Vajjhala

    Chief Information Officer, Federal Trade Commission

  • Aaron Tragle

    Consulting Systems Engineer, U.S. Federal, Aruba Networks

  • Jason Miller

    Executive Editor, Federal News Network

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