Many agencies are discovering that moving applications to the cloud is not as easy as they originally anticipated. It’s not a matter of “move it and forget it.”
Shifting applications to a cloud environment, whether public or private, on premises or off, shifts IT professionals’ responsibilities. In order to transplant their apps, they need to transform those applications. They must adjust everything from the processes used to create the apps, to adopting automation tools to keep them up-to-date and secure.
Here are four considerations federal agencies should hone in on as they migrate their traditional, legacy applications to cloud environments.
1. Cloud is not a panacea to relieve you of your duties
Agencies have a tendency to think that the cloud is a magical place that will solve all of their problems. But while the cloud offers many clear benefits it is not a panacea for everything that ails agency IT. Agency IT professionals cannot simply move applications to the cloud and forget about them. Instead, they will find themselves in a new management position. Instead of managing the applications directly, they will now be managing their cloud providers.
For example, it can be difficult to get a good grasp on how even the most reputable and government-sanctioned cloud providers are housing data. Agencies must take on the responsibility of ensuring that their providers are committed to not only keeping data secure, but provide agencies with access to information about how that data is being handled. They should also consider how they will retrieve that data if needed for migration to another platform, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests or future data analytics.
In any case, migrating applications to the cloud will still alleviate managers of having to deal with many of the day-to-day responsibilities that take up much of their time. This will free them up to focus on other, more mission-critical tasks that help move their agencies forward.
2. Use the cloud to consolidate and simplify
Many agencies still have a great deal of sprawl and duplication efforts across their IT environments. Ideally, the cloud will help solve this problem. Instead, though, agencies are simply transplanting these same confusing and conflicting templates and transferring them to the cloud. This only exacerbates the problem.
Instead, they should be using the cloud to simplify and consolidate their applications. One example of this is the adoption of Office 365. In the last two years alone usage has grown more than 20 percent, from 34 percent to more than 56 percent . The federal government has realized the benefits and ROI of consolidating these productivity applications as well as eliminating the necessity of upgrades and management.
3. Weigh the benefits of different types of clouds
The use of a hybrid, multi-cloud approach is spreading as agencies attempt to take advantage of the benefits of private and public clouds, which each have their own advantages and drawbacks. Amazon, for example, is well suited for applications built for the cloud from the ground up. Microsoft, on the other hand, has focused on more of “lift and shift“ approach, where an organization moves an application from on-premises to the Azure cloud, while Google touts their business analytics as a key differentiator.
Public clouds offer enterprise scale and capabilities for organizations of any size, along the economic benefit of only paying for whatever they use. The trade-off is that organizations relinquish some control over where their data is stored, in many cases sharing the same hardware, storage and network devices with other tenants. Private clouds offer higher levels of control, security and customization tailored to the specific needs of an organization, but at the potential cost of some economic benefits. Hybrid clouds give agencies the ability to choose the right combination of public, private and on-premises deployments to give them the security, efficiency and scale they need.
In addition to embracing the cloud, agencies are also recognizing the importance of maintaining separate access depending on the user’s classification level. For the Department of Defense and intelligence community, this is second nature. For civilian agencies, it requires a careful assessment of each app, the data it uses, who should have access, and in which kind of cloud it should be located. Agencies should weigh the benefits of an off-premise or on-premise private cloud, or even maintaining a data center for the most sensitive, compartmented applications.
Cloud deployments and maintaining levels of access permission also require consideration of identity management and authentication. While the federal government is emphasizing two-factor authentication, that is not the same as access management. Agencies must determine, based on work requirements, classification levels, and employee clearances who is allowed access to applications in these different clouds.
Automation is critically important. It can help smooth the transition from legacy environments to the cloud by automating many of the tasks involved in the transition.
Agencies should look closely at the automation tools available to them, including gateway application services. These services bridge the gaps between existing and emerging protocols and technology, to support applications in the cloud. Application Programming Interfaces (API)-enabled infrastructure, needed in part to facilitate deployment automation, is moving to the forefront. In our fourth annual survey on the State of Application Delivery, nearly three-fourths of government respondents — 73 percent — said an API-enabled infrastructure is important.
Taking advantage of cloud hosting of applications offers many benefits, from cost savings to flexibility and scalability based on need. But it is not a panacea, and it requires planning and coordination to maximize those benefits. Automation and orchestration can make executing the move, and maintaining the applications, much easier, provided agencies have determined what goes where, and who gets to come in.
Peter Kersten is a regional vice president for federal sales at F5.