Leveraging hybrid clouds for agency workloads

2019 was a banner year of federal cloud adoption for IT modernization. Building on growing cloud investments across agencies -- IDC reports that U.S. federal cloud spending will reach $3.3 billion 2021 -- federal CIOs are devising thoughtful strategies to maximize cloud value. The government’s shift from the 2010 Cloud First plan to Cloud Smart underscored this trend, encouraging agencies to use the cloud in a way that best achieves mission objectives, secures the nation and meets the needs of citizens. This adjustment in strategy mirrors what we’re seeing in broader markets, as cloud exuberance has given way to workload placement being driven by application and organizational requirements.

Transitioning to a consistent hybrid-cloud approach including both private and public clouds is one of the most important and fundamental steps in any agency’s digital transformation, offering increased security and greater flexibility, transparency and scalability. With 81% of federal agencies already operating in multicloud environments, according to a recent survey, consistency across all these clouds is critical. While multicloud environments can cause complexity, the reality is they are the foundation for the evolution and adaptation of emerging and advanced technology.

Agencies beginning their hybrid-cloud journey must remember that cloud is not a destination, it’s an operating model that supports long-term modernization goals and mission needs. The cloud should exist everywhere applications reside -- from edge locations, like the battlefield, to on-premises clouds and public clouds. When transforming infrastructure, agencies must think about workloads, applications and use cases, and they need to consider how these workloads impact everyone from the citizen to the warfighter. Depending on the workload, agencies must be able to choose whether to keep the workload on-premises, in public clouds or both.

Workloads that stay on-premises

Federal agencies collect sensitive information: home addresses, Social Security numbers and information required for background checks, to situational awareness data that protects military service members. Putting this data in a hosted cloud can increase the number of access points and, in turn, the level of vulnerability. These sensitive workloads may be better on-premises.

Additionally, systems that are not public-cloud-ready will likely use excessive cloud infrastructure resources, meaning they will not be any more efficient and will almost certainly cost more to operate. Legacy systems must be prepared for a transition to the cloud of choice --  and workloads should remain on-premises until they’re fully ready for migration when and if that day comes.

Workloads in public clouds

Federal agencies are also responsible for collecting, managing and analyzing huge amounts of public data about the nation and the world, including labor statistics, census information and environmental data. Calculations on demographics of U.S. households, the rate of extinction of North American species or the unemployment rate could be streamlined by running the analysis in cloud environments. High volumes of non-sensitive, non-critical data are more appropriate for public cloud environments and provide great value when it can be shared.

Day-to-day, non-sensitive and collaborative workloads can also be placed in a public cloud. Federal employees often need to work from remote locations, whether they’re teleworking across town or stationed across the globe. Non-sensitive documents and applications should be transferred to a public cloud so staff can access their workloads at any time and from any place, particularly those requiring minimal security and backup.

It is important to note that migrating applications and data to the public cloud means embracing new workflows and operational models. Government IT leaders should familiarize themselves and their developers with the shared responsibility model of their cloud vendor to ensure security, compliance and service level requirements are met. 

Hybrid cloud solution

In reality, agencies run both private and non-sensitive workloads on a daily basis, making a hybrid-cloud approach a universal best practice for keeping data secure and accessible.

Agencies working in multicloud environments require seamless compatibility across their cloud and on-premise infrastructure to be successful. However, a poorly implemented hybrid environment can become a major barrier and detract from the benefits expected from the cloud. Agencies can alleviate this challenge with a consistent hybrid-cloud solution that allows them to manage their cloud environment in a simple, holistic way -- providing consistency across public, private and edge environments. Agencies should also look to incorporate platforms that are built for specific workload needs and flexible consumption models that can provide greater choice, flexibility and predictable outcomes.

Government's digital transformation means that emerging technology adoption can be accelerated and IT capabilities can better support the success of missions for citizens and warfighters. In 2019 government started thinking cloud smart, but in the coming year, the hybrid cloud will make that strategy a reality.

About the Author

Steve Harris is senior vice president and general manager, Dell Technologies Federal.


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