The coronavirus pandemic let the telework genie out of the bottle. Sure, federal employees and contractors worked remotely before the national emergency. But the surge of teleworkers put a strain on agency technology infrastructure like never before.
Agencies realized quickly that modern, flexible IT was the difference between getting employees up and running in days versus weeks versus months.
And as the pandemic continues and other challenges emerge, agencies will need to be ready and equipped for broad-scale work from home/anywhere approach.
Over the last several months, working from home revealed some interesting things: Federal employees can work from anywhere and remain productive – and even happy. At the same time, remove working expanded the cyber threat surface agencies face.
It’s clear from the pandemic agencies are re-shaping the way they work and maintains continuity of operations and cybersecurity. Agencies need to maintain this level of agility and security well beyond the COVID-19 emergency.
Agencies can take the lessons learned from the pandemic and continue to apply them to their broader mission areas.
Dan Fallon, the senior director of federal engineering at Nutanix, said agencies have to continue to think about how to ensure their infrastructure continues to move toward one that is resilient and secure.
“The coronavirus lockdown forced agencies to expand overnight so they had to use the elasticity of the public cloud environment and had to have that agility to be able to shift, which isn’t an easy thing,” Fallon said on the IT Innovation Insider. “The bottom line is this is what the cloud was designed for and agencies took advantage of it. Now as we move to the long-term sustainment, agencies need to evaluate what is the most cost-effective way to run the service. They may need to shift a service back on-premise or move a service to a different cloud as part of streamlining the budgets. In the beginning it was about getting operational, but now cost becomes more of a concern.”
Part of that architecture that Fallon talks about is the use of multiple and hybrid cloud approaches. It’s clear from over the past few months that agencies who were already well into moving applications to the cloud fared better than those who were behind the curve.
Greg O’Connell, the senior director of federal at Nutanix, said the pandemic showed whether agencies business continuity strategies were robust enough.
“Agencies need to be confident in their infrastructure and cloud strategies and even stress testing them, and sharing those results to build confidence with their internal customers,” he said. “This is generating some hard questions like is the public cloud model really scalable and resilient under conditions like this? Are the cloud providers maintaining the excess capacity at the scale needed right now? Supporting the infrastructure services robust enough to continue access to these cloud platforms is paramount.”
O’Connell said this resilience and scalable approach is all about agencies having “cloud optionality,” meaning the ability to move workloads, applications and data across or between platforms.
“It’s back to this idea of not putting all your eggs in one basket,” he said. “We have seen remote workers demanding greater capacity from their network, storage and services. Working remotely is no longer a choice. It’s a mandate so they are expecting more. We are seeing things like spot pricing shifting to surge pricing with some of the cloud providers where costs can quickly escalate due to the work from home mandate.”
Fallon said within the concept of cloud optionality is the recognition that agencies are no longer just behind the “safety” of their data center.
“There are a lot of standards like FedRAMP and other security policies to set that baseline for cloud services. So that helps agencies know that the underlying service meets a very high security bar,” he said. “Those are the things agencies need to think about as they design for multi-tenant environment, which means service level agreements are important, maybe they need to do a reserve instance so they have dedicated horsepower and will not be impacted by a surge event. It may be a little more expensive but they don’t want their email or critical database doing down.”
Fallon said the surge of remote working also expanded each agency’s threat surface, which makes the multi-cloud approach more important because it spreads the risk more broadly.
As the remote working continues for the near future, Fallon said agencies must continue to ensure their applications and data are agile enough to meet the employees’ needs.
“Zero trust will continue to grow. It was already becoming a hot topic before COVID-19, but it’s only going to accelerate because that really allows the federal security team to know that they can give the flexibility to the end user if they have that zero trust posture across their enterprise IT,” Fallon said.
O’Connell added the pandemic will continue to move employees to the edge, which will, in turn, continue to drive the multi-cloud strategy.