Federal agencies have moved steadily to hybrid, multicloud infrastructures. They choose to retain some data centers, while not settling on any single commercial cloud services provider.
Recent research by Nutanix among federal IT practitioners confirmed the whys for this approach.
“The primary drivers for agencies that move to hybrid cloud are issues like strengthening overall cybersecurity for example and data sovereignty,” said Greg O’Connell, senior director for U.S. federal at Nutanix.
With respect to data sovereignty he added that some countries have strict privacy and sovereignty laws, so agencies need to be aware of where their data is stored and ensure they comply with all regulations.
Agility also came up in the research.
“This means to be able to locate apps and workloads where they best meet the needs of the mission or to meet strategic objectives such as security, performance, compliance or costs,” O’Connell said at Federal News Network’s Industry Exchange Cloud 2023.
He added: “No one wants to be locked into a single or specific vendor or cloud vendor. That can be very limiting and expensive. Hybrid multicloud can offer freedom of choice, which is very important.”
Underlying this strategy is the fact that cloud services vary as do the related costs for services, which both become especially critical when managing across multiple environments. CSPs don’t offer undifferentiated, commodity services, O’Connell said. That gives rise to the question, “How are you going to manage all those clouds? That’s a key consideration,” he said.
O’Connell said Nutanix Cloud Platform is a single, software-defined platform that can be deployed anywhere — on premise, at the edge, at a colocation facility or in the public cloud — to significantly reduce the complexity of a hybrid IT environment. It forms what he called a common operating model that enables the IT staff to operate and manage ab=n agency’s entire IT environment through one dashboard, such as moving workloads and datasets or scaling additional capacity.
Avoiding cloud sticker shock
Given the multiple service level agreements agencies have in place and the long lists of services each cloud offers, federal IT teams often lack the specific information they need to make optimal cloud hosting decisions, O’Connell said.
Questions they face include “whether it’s on premises or whether it’s cloud, and if so, which cloud? Where to locate these apps and workloads and in which cloud? Is it really cheaper? How do I get visibility? Are my apps cloud-ready?” he said.
The result often is sticker shot because agencies plan on a given budget, but then begin seeing costs for things they did not plan for, O’Connell said.
Nutanix has deployed a team of cloud economists — “basically senior financial, total cost of ownership and return on investment experts” — to help agencies get answers and navigate these questions.
Price shock often comes from data egress charges that clouds impose. Or it comes from not matching the workload demands with the capacity the agency has purchased from the cloud, leading to what O’Connell called microwaste.
He used the analogy of stocking up on the wrong t-shirt sizes.
“We know of one agency that had a six-thread and 12-gigabyte memory virtual machine need,” O’Connell said. “But the t-shirt size was eight threads and 16 gig. This creates two threads and four gigs memory of waste. Since the capacity can’t be shared with other VMs, the customer overpays at the VM level.” It translated to 20% more cost than the agency planned for.
The opposite scenario sometimes happens too.
“You might underprovision for compute,” O’Connell said, “and then you overrun and get into an on-demand and premium pricing scenario.” He added, “These are the little nuances that aren’t always easy to account for.”
In another case, scientists at one agency refactored a compute- and data-intensive application to run in the cloud during the day. O’Connell said the well-intentioned scientists were taking their cues from agency management, which had a cloud strategy.
“But these scientists are not IT people per se,” O’Connell said. “There was the caveat that you need to, like, effectively turn these things off at night. And they simply forgot to turn the applications off in multiple instances.” The result was more than just a 20% cost bump.
“Yep, we got the bill at the end of the month, and it was an order of magnitude higher than they expected,” O’Connell said, adding, “This is why companies like Nutanix provide cost governance through a centralized management dashboard.”