Over the past decade, the cloud has gone from being a risky proposition to a “sure thing,” regarding thinking in federal IT circles. Federal mandates, originating in the previous administration were driven hard by high-profile events like federal website launch failures and data breaches, making a move to cloud computing a top priority.
Many smaller agencies have cloud strategies that are still evolving, while most of the larger agencies have already adopted a mix of private and public commercial cloud-based services to conduct a variety of their workflow. Some of the processes federal agencies are using the cloud to facilitate include:
- content management
- research and development
- big-data analytics
- data and network security
The hybrid cloud serves as a bridge, of sorts, between private and public or commercial clouds. This is helping agencies protect the investment in their existing technology while they develop and move newer applications into the cloud. During the transition virtualization and unified management have become crucial components of that bridge.
Additionally, agency cultures are changing as the workforce composition evolves with the entry of millennials. With this generation comes the expectation of shorter application development lifecycles and more effective next-generation solutions.
With all that said, here are the top five reasons why federal agencies are moving to the cloud:
1. Compliance with Governmental Mandates Regarding Digital Transformation
In 2010, US CIO, Vivek Kundra announced that the federal government had a whopping 10,584 datacenters. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) immediately sought to change that.
President Obama established the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) in February of 2010. In a memo sent out to all federal CIOs, he expressed the goal of promoting the use of “Green IT” by reduction of the overall energy, consumptive, and real estate footprint created by the massive federal data centers.
Many of the “Cloud First” objectives outlined can be met by private technology and agencies have utilized these four steps as they navigated their consolidation over the last seven years —and as they continue to do so.
1. Utilize dynamically provisioned services that use both configurable and flexible technology when possible. These can include:
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
2. Migrating first, to shared or interagency services and co-located data centers.
3. Migrating later to more optimized, data centers within the agency’s inventory of data centers.
4. Migrating to public cloud-based data centers.
The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) also has impacted the feds move to the cloud.
“(…)also set forth permitted methods for agencies to consolidate data centers and achieve maximum server utilization and energy efficiency. The bill would require agencies to track costs resulting from implementation of the Initiative within the agency and submit an annual report on such costs to the FCIO.” adapted from H.R. 1232
The combined benefits of these mandates have reduced IT spend, data center hardware, software, and operational costs through shifting IT expenditures into more efficient next-gen tech, cloud-based platforms, enabling the realization of the government’s goal of “faster, better and cheaper.”
2. Technology, Security, Agility, and Speed
Things move faster than ever now, and the expectation is that federal agencies should be able to keep up. They just can no longer afford to wait a year or longer to launch new applications. With modern cloud platforms, a federal agency can build, supply systems, and load applications in less than a month. The FAA explains in this article how they used this process to create their secure drone registry site and API, meeting the aggressive deadlines by utilizing the cloud.
The kind of agility the cloud brings is an essential component. It enables an agency to respond to cyber threats and security concerns. Agencies like the CDC exercise their technological agility and computing power they are receiving from web services and the infrastructure cloud.
3. IT Budget Management
The Trump administration has pledged to continue initiatives that are designed to cut government spending. Federal agencies, therefore, will be even more vigilant about their budget concerns. Since moving to the cloud will offer more cost-effective options for leveraging resources through consolidation of hardware, sharing services, orchestration, and automation, it is likely this will fit into the current administration’s agenda, as well.
Cloud solutions can also offer more federal agencies access to specialized IT staff with specialized skillsets in cybersecurity and cloud management. This will increase government hiring. Agencies may benefit from the economies of scale offered by big-cloud providers like Microsoft Azure.
4. Shortened Release Cycles
Cloud-based service providers offer government agencies a broad range of features. These include security, compliance, and application development services. The government can also benefit from advanced database services and analytics.
Even artificial intelligence, when you think about it, is a strongly aligned government project that can be developed faster and better using the cloud infrastructure. Developing projets like these can take years, traditionally. However, cloud providers can significantly reduce release cycle times and decrease time to adoption, as well.
5. Improved Agency Cybersecurity
One of the most critical areas both the private sector and government can benefit in when implementing the cloud successfully is security. Experts agree that while nothing is completely impervious, the cloud offers more security than the physical or hybrid data centers.
Once it complies with certain standards such as the Federal Risk and Authorization Management program (FedRAMP), and the agency moves its data and operations to the cloud, there is less hardware to be breached. However, network security and network access are still a consideration.
One of the enjoyable aspects of cloud computing is that you can depend on the cloud provider’s security expertise whether it is physical or virtual security, as long as the vendor meets standards. Agencies or private sector then only need only be concerned with providing middleware and application’s security. These processes are typically outsourced to system integrators and contractors utilizing a shared responsibility model.
Cloud Adoption and your Business
With these five drivers, it’s very apparent that government agencies are well on their way to adopting and migrating their applications to the cloud. However, what about your business? While it is true that not every workload is appropriate for the cloud and often it is best and most practical to adopt a hybrid system. The fact that the government is finding the cloud more hospitable is a good indicator it might be time to consider a space for your operations there as well.
5 Lessons Private Enterprise Can Learn from the Government’s Cloud Migration Journey
Comprehensive IT strategies are paramount to fruitful and low risk IT operations, in the cloud and traditionally. The lessons we can takeaway from the governments slow but steady cloud migration are:
1. No matter the how enormous the scale, migration to the cloud is possible. Imagine migrating data from over 10,000 data centers to the cloud. That completely dwarfs the undertaking of even the largest private companies.
2. Even when no two people can agree on much else within an organization, “Cloud First” initiatives, are something that most decision makers support. Though the previous administration initiated the cloud migration, it appears to have bipartisan support. This is encouraging when you consider having to convince just one or two in the C-suite.
3. It’s better for the environment to move to the cloud. Not only is there energy savings involved but responsible sharing of resources has large-scale impact. While your company’s data center is not likely to take up the same amount of space as those used by the US government, it will make a difference.
4. It makes sense economically to migrate to the cloud. Simply, you can do more with less. The vastness of the cloud’s resources and those provided by web service providers is enormous. There are many more operations that can be accomplished utilizing virtualized environments than any single company or even government has the individual resources to afford.
5. Data is more secure in the cloud. While nothing is foolproof, cloud data storage techniques create a system of redundancy that is not duplicatable in traditional settings. Management and security, thanks to outsourcing even for middleware applications and local devices is abundant and available due to the cloud.
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