Across government, agencies have to scale their infrastructure and technology to meet the remote workforce demands that have been accelerated by the pandemic. In many cases, they must do so with stretched IT budgets and prolonged project cycles. At this unexpected and pivotal time, mid-sized and large agencies are being forced to look much more strategically at future technology requirements, infrastructure needs and related ongoing expenditures.
The Cloud First and Cloud Smart initiatives directed modernization over the last decade, but enforcement has been lacking and adoption was slower than intended when those policies were set. The rapid move to remote work has shifted IT infrastructure operating requirements almost overnight, exposing systemic weaknesses largely rooted in dated technology that couldn’t scale to the demands of this moment.
Yes, cloud has been on every agency’s agenda, but it’s often been deferred in favor of other more immediate needs. With mission fulfillment now being undermined, modernization initiatives can no longer be “pushed to the right” on the calendar. The due date has arrived.
While Cloud First mandated a broad modernization effort, Cloud Smart recognizes two critical factors to consider in approaching any cloud initiative: cybersecurity and system performance. Cloud Smart requires that agencies take a risk-based approach to security and emphasize protections at the data layer along with the network and physical infrastructure (also known as defense-in-depth). It recognizes that the high performance requirements of certain workloads and data sets can’t endure network latency, limiting the kind of cloud environment that can support them. Such critical, high-performance applications also compel a level of availability that the owner agency can predictably control.
Since cloud is now an urgent driver of an agency’s go-forward capabilities, the practical way to meet these demands will need to incorporate a hybrid cloud approach that is either directly managed by an agency or consumed as-a-service from a Federal Managed Service Provider.
The business case for adopting hybrid cloud is compelling: it provides flexible, efficient, safe and on-demand access to applications and data, whenever and wherever needed. Hybrid can be tailored to support unique mission requirements and applications, arming agencies with automation and self-service to advance successful mission outcomes. Select data can be kept on a public cloud, but all data can be seen and managed on a single screen, helping agencies manage their complex mix of applications and infrastructure.
Of course there will always be situations where a private cloud is required—low latency or zero downtime applications, big data processing and analytics, and data that is especially sensitive given privacy, trade secret or national security reasons. For these situations, private cloud delivers flexible, automated, on-demand IT that remains completely within an agency’s direct control. But for the great number of other application needs, a hybrid solution is a functional and valid option.
Still, not every agency or department will have the bandwidth, time or budget to take this on for every requirement. In some cases, it’s best to consider subscribing to managed cloud services from a number of federal managed service providers that offer them. The Defense Information Systems Agency, supporting components across the Defense Department, is perhaps the most readily known for this kind of offering. But the Agriculture Department’s Digital Infrastructure Services Center (DISC) is available to all civilian agencies, and the Administrative Office of the US Courts also provides cloud services for organizations across the judiciary. In today’s shared services environment, more options are likely forthcoming.
Adopting these managed services has the advantage of keeping agency data within the federal government’s ownership and control, reducing potential security concerns. It’s well-suited for workloads that require low-latency, high-performance solutions. It’s also a great way for agencies to reap the benefits of automation that come with managed services, alleviating skilled workforce challenges. What’s more, there is a cost modeling benefit, as federally-provided managed services carry minimal cross charges but no retrieval fees when an agency wants to access its data, such as are imposed by public cloud providers.
For their part, federal managed service providers will operate best in a hybrid-cloud world by:
Identifying their synergies and competitive advantages over public cloud providers, and promoting those to their potential agency customers.
Implementing automation to create self-service solutions for their end-user customers.
Utilizing flexible as-a-service and alternative procurement methods to reduce financial risk of on-prem CapEx investments for the hybrid cloud.
Moving quickly to some cloud-centric model is clearly an imperative driven by the effects of the pandemic. But it’s also an opportunity to accelerate a shift that was inevitable, by taking advantage of some rather favorable options. Despite the pressure to do more with less, agencies can and do have a path forward that enjoys the technical sophistication, scalability and flexibility needed to keep their missions and their workforce, wherever they may be, on track.
James Langley is a Solutions Consultant at Hitachi Vantara Federal