Cloud adoption has been a top priority for the government since the introduction of the Cloud First policy in 2010, an objective that was reaffirmed with the updated Cloud Smart Strategy this June. Its value is clear—cloud technology supports federal IT modernization, reduces millions of dollars of federal technical debt and increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the warfighter and citizens.
Yet government is still evolving its approach to the cloud. Single-vendor hosted cloud initiatives have raised concerns about vendor lock-in and their potential to stifle innovation. In fact, a recent House Appropriations Committee report recommended agencies look at the CIA’s move to pursue a multi-vendor, multi-cloud approach, a decision made to increase access to cloud innovation and benefits. The report encouraged the Defense Department to consider lessons learned from the CIA’s cloud experience as they expand their investment in the cloud. As a result of single-vendor concern, we are seeing a move toward multi-cloud.
The interest in multi-cloud illustrates government’s growing understanding that cloud is not a destination, but an operating model that supports long-term modernization goals and mission needs. Agency IT leaders are echoing this sentiment, publicly expressing support for strategies that answer important questions about security, scalability, agility and readiness for emerging technologies. Multi-cloud approaches encompass cloud solutions that include a combination of clouds hosted on premises, in public clouds and at the edge.
When looking to begin a holistic digital transformation that includes cloud, it is imperative that agencies have a strategy in place to make the most of the data, security, resiliency and application advantages of multi-cloud environments. But challenges must also be considered including multiple application programming interfaces (APIs), longer development time and roadblocks to sharing applications and data across cloud platforms. When developing a cloud strategy, it is important to consider that a hybrid-cloud approach eliminates some of these challenges, offering greater consistency across software operations and management tools.
As the government places a closer focus on multi-cloud solutions, here are some of the benefits and important considerations to enable agencies to get the most from this cloud strategy.
Data security and protection is one of federal agencies’ highest concerns and legacy systems are continually deemed inefficient in the current tech environment. A June 11 Government Accountability Office report found that maintaining and operating legacy IT systems across 10 agencies costs approximately $337 million annually and contributed to “security risks, unmet mission needs, staffing issues and increased costs.”
Yet at the same time, as agencies modernize, there is an inherent cybersecurity concern that comes from the lack of control of and visibility into security practices in hosted cloud environments. Multi-cloud balances this concern by allowing agencies to select the right environment and level of security for each workload. In a multi-cloud environment, sensitive citizen information can stay on-prem, but public-facing information can still be hosted off premises.
To make the most of multi-cloud’s benefits, remember to consider cloud as an operating model. Agencies should seek relationships with cloud vendors that allow them to plan and treat cloud on a workload by workload basis, while also providing awareness of security policies.
Flexibility and transparency
While cloud environments offer clear benefits in terms of efficiency and cost, agency needs change and often access needs change for workloads supporting their missions. Multi-cloud environments enable agencies to adjust through flexibility and transparency. An agency can granularly choose how to handle each workload—but has the flexibility to easily change how data sets and workloads are stored and used if necessary.
The flexibility and transparency of a multi-cloud environment helps to avoid vendor lock-in. Imagine that an agency selects a vendor for their innovative technology, but that vendor neglects to update its infrastructure and technology over the course of the relationship. Agencies should have the flexibility to change who they’re working with to ensure they’re always supported by the best technology available. In this way, multi-cloud environments inspire competition, driving continual improvement.
Agencies should require flexibility and transparency in every part of their vendor agreements, from security to speeds to cost. Depending on the complexity of an organization’s multi-cloud environment, agencies should consider management solutions that can make the flexibility and transparency of their cloud environments easier to utilize and that maximize cloud efficiencies.
As technology rapidly advances, infrastructure needs may also increase at rates that are hard to predict. A multi-cloud approach allows agencies to easily scale depending on workload—they can add or remove capacity as necessary to adapt to fluctuating needs.
Multi-cloud approaches not only offer choice and flexibility in infrastructure but can reduce millions of dollars of federal technical debt and can also increase the effectiveness of warfighters and citizens.
To make the most of multi-cloud or any cloud environment, agencies should look at their long-term plan to determine how their infrastructure needs will evolve over the next five, 10 or even 20 years. However, starting in a multi-cloud structure will make inevitable tweaks to the plan easier as the next disruptive technology emerges in government.
Transitioning to the cloud is one of the most important and fundamental steps in any agency’s digital transformation. A multi-cloud approach, when implemented correctly, should be a federal best practice to keep data secure and effectively use agency resources. The benefits are numerous and, with the future primed for the evolution and adaptation of emerging tech, multi-cloud provides an essential foundation for tomorrow’s workloads and workforce needs.
Agencies should then implement a hybrid cloud platform that seamlessly integrates their multiple cloud environments. This hybrid cloud approach helps reduce complexity by benefiting from common set of operational and management tools across all cloud locations to simplify the use of applications and data across a disperse set of cloud environments.
Steve Harris is the senior vice president and general manager of Dell Technologies Federal.