It’s complicated: What feds are learning about multi-cloud environments

Federal agencies are deploying workloads across three, six, and in some cases 20+ public, private and edge cloud platforms. While this approach enables IT teams to select the best solution for each workload, increase reliability, and perhaps reduce costs, multi-cloud infrastructure has also increased data fragmentation, data silos and operations complexity.

The challenge, according to a new survey of 150 Federal IT decision makers, is that few Federal IT organizations are confident in their ability to manage those environments. While most agencies currently use multiple cloud platforms, 75% report that managing multiple clouds will be a top challenge over the next five years. The MeriTalk report, Juggling the Clouds: What Are Agencies Learning, also shares that nearly half of federal IT executives agree their agency is not yet taking the right steps to prepare for their multi-cloud future.

Planning for a multi-cloud future

According to the report, performance, reliability and cost savings are among the many drivers for adopting multi-cloud application and service environments.

While every agency wants a secure modern computing environment, there are always operational challenges. Number one is security, followed by data governance and interoperability.

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Almost all (89%) of federal IT executives say consistency across cloud platforms is key to moving multi-cloud forward, enabling agencies to effectively connect teams, avoid data silos, and future-proof infrastructure and operations across public, private and edge environments. This could be consistency of management tools, development environments, access controls and any other infrastructure elements that apply, regardless of the cloud or on-prem environment chosen.

But this consistency is a challenge for many agencies. Just 37% rate consistency between services in their environment as “very good,” and fewer than a quarter rate consistency in operations or infrastructure as “very good.”

The lack of consistency between cloud platforms introduces its own set of challenges, according to IDC, including the lack of a unified management framework across an organization’s chosen cloud platforms. This can result in duplication of management tools and processes for each platform, additional training and skill set requirements, and difficulty porting data and applications between different cloud platforms.

How can agencies address these issues and manage multi-cloud environments with greater consistency/fewer silos?

Taking the right Steps

“As agencies modernize, they are increasingly deploying more artificial intelligence and [internet of things] devices that collect vast amounts of data across public and private cloud environments,” said Cameron Chehreh, chief technology officer and vice president for Presales Engineering at Dell Technologies Federal. “One of the best ways to future-proof your environment while avoiding data silos is to provide consistent infrastructure and operations across public, private and edge environments.”

According to the research, agencies are working to ensure their cloud platforms can easily and securely integrate with each other and with legacy infrastructure already in place. Federal IT leaders say they are taking steps including training their workforce (42%), implementing access controls (35%), and establishing a multi-cloud leadership team (32%). While these are good steps, more agencies need to follow suit to realize cloud benefits and support their missions with a modern edge-to-core-to-cloud strategy.

Agencies also should take advantage of opportunities to share use cases and best practices. As an example, Jose Arrieta, CIO for the department of Health and Human Services, spoke recently on the importance of having insight into different data sets, and the importance of cloud storage, MeriTalk reported. There are many exciting possibilities for evolving patient care with more connected information — and Arrieta said they are seeing value today from analyzing across data sets. The agency enabled predictive analytics in HHS’s procurement process to identify $111 million in savings that could be put toward future modernization efforts. Arrieta said that while some agencies are struggling to manage cloud environments, “there is a bigger risk in not doing anything.” The experience of an agency in its cloud adoption and management processes can be valuable to other organizations within the federal government.

HCI Is Bridging the Gap

As agencies manage legacy IT systems and require fast access between applications and databases, they need interoperability and backwards compatibility between clouds, and with existing on-prem environments.

In order to increase interoperability and compatibility between environments, some organizations are investing in Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI) to create a flexible environment that connects legacy data centers and cloud environments. HCI platforms can provide a uniform management environment and virtualized infrastructure to host hybrid cloud environments, and to manage multiple cloud environments.

While just 28% of federal IT leaders say their agency has invested in HCI today, those who have say they are better equipped to manage multi-cloud environments. Sixty-two percent of leaders implementing HCI say their agency is adequately prepared for a multi-cloud future, while just 44% of those who are not implementing HCI say they are prepared for a multi-cloud future.

Benefits reported include improved backup and recovery capabilities, and improved data sharing. Overall, standardizing a management environment for multiple clouds based on HCI can enhance security and operational flexibility, and hopefully decrease costs in the long run as federal cloud adoption continues.

David Pipes is the senior solutions architect for Affigent.

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