Officials from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the General Services Administration talked about key decision points in their agencies’ move to cloud services at the Google Government Summit on Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.

DISA: Purposeful With Cloud Migration 

Moving to the cloud was a no-brainer decision for the Department of Defense (DoD) as a means to gain information advantage over adversaries. But moving to the cloud cannot be a lift and shift affair, rather, it must be purposeful, said Sharon Woods, DISA’s Hosting and Compute Center director.

“The cloud allows us to collect more and more data in a way that is just not possible with data centers, and it gives us an information advantage over adversaries like China,” Woods said.

But she cautioned against blindly moving all applications and capabilities to the cloud. When agencies decide to move an application or capability, “they must be purposeful in their decision to make that move,” she said.

“Previous mandates and guidance that we have seen come down have suggested a lift and shift approach to cloud adoption, but many of us can agree that approach does not make sense. Not everything in your networks is ready or even meant to be in the cloud,” Woods explained.

Woods suggested that agencies find use cases where cloud service would benefit them, and then start small. Cloud is a journey, not a mega-lift and to succeed agencies need to “start small and continuously build on those successes,” Woods said.

In some instances, a hybrid cloud environment works best for an organization, and Woods advised agencies not to be afraid of going down that route.

DISA is currently working to transform its data centers into hybrid cloud centers. This transformation, Woods explained, makes the agency more adaptable to changing mission needs, like with last year’s rapid troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Having a hybrid cloud means that you do have a traditional data center footprint and backup mainframes to provide those capabilities. We also have a private cloud in those environments. And then at some point, we would like to get to a place where we have fully integrated commercial clouds as well. Currently, we have 11 data centers across the world and we’re very focused on autonomous cloud as well,” Woods said.

“We want to get to a place where we have hybrid cloud data centers because it opens up doors in a way that are just not there right now,” she added.

GSA: Cloud Support During the Pandemic

Before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, some early-adopter government organizations implemented cloud at scale. Beth Killoran, deputy chief information officer at the General Services Administration (GSA), explained that this was the case for GSA, and how that move paid off during the public health crisis.

During the pandemic, the flexibility and scalability of the cloud allowed government to meet the urgent challenges of the crisis, including massive surges in demand for online services and the sudden shift to remote work.

“Think about what we have been through in the last two years. If everything had been placed into a data center and required to be in a GSA facility, we would not be able to offer the ability to use capabilities and applications from any place securely,” Killoran said.

“Cloud gave us the flexibility to make changes as our mission changed. It allowed us to be secure, and offered flexibility from where we work,” she said.

GSA provides support to other Federal agencies as part of its mandate – particularly with managing Federal buildings – but to effectively provide that support since 2020 GSA has needed to understand the Federal perspective of this pandemic. Killoran explained that the agency needed data on the demographic of employees or Federal staff overall in geographical areas, the status of virus spread in those areas, and which areas and buildings needed support.

GSA already had 60 percent of its applications, data, and capabilities in the cloud before the pandemic. Therefore, it was able to utilize that data and combine it with public source information and real-time geospatial tags to provide support to Federal agencies during the pandemic.

“If we would have tried to stand up an environment to do that or try to build that capability it would have taken us much longer. So instead of it taking us weeks, we got things set up in a matter of two or three days,” Killoran recalled.

Despite the success Federal agencies have had with the cloud, some hesitation still exists in fully adopting this IT capability.

In navigating that conversation, it’s critical to bring in knowledge experts to show the operations benefits of migrating to the cloud, Killoran said. She also explained that agencies should avoid “techno-babble” on that subject, because it will not help convince those hesitant to change.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.