For some Federal agencies, taking a hybrid approach to cloud modernization is the best path forward in protecting data, as well as helping to manage costs.

Speaking at the August 10 ATARC 2021 Cloud Virtual Summit, experts from NASA and the Department of State talked about what approaches in the cloud work best for their agencies.

“I think for a long time, we had this idea of ‘let’s do all in in the cloud.’ And it’s posed some significant challenges, specifically around R&D and science,” said Joe Foster, Cloud Computing Program Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. But as with a lot of science, he said, “it’s messy … there’s a lot of effort that goes in early on into trying to do things like AI and machine learning.”

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Foster said that eventually NASA moved towards a hybrid cloud where it could have a “cost-controlled on-prem environment where scientists can get in and do some of that early lifecycle research.”

Brian Merrick, Deputy CIO and Director of Cloud Programs at the State Department, offered that it’s important to have expertise when managing a hybrid environment because nothing works the same way in the cloud as on-prem.

“From the way you buy it, the way you secure it, the way you manage it and set it up, you really have to have people with the expertise in those specific environments, and they all work a little bit differently as well,” said Merrick. “And then in terms of the people on the IT side also understanding where can you leverage their skills, how do you upskill, where possible, and kind of change the way that narrative works around the value because you end up adding more value from a business standpoint,” he continued.

But finding expertise and having the people with the correct skillsets can be challenging for agencies. According to Merrick, there’s a “war on talent.”

“I think there’s one degree program in the U.S. that offers a master’s degree in cloud. That’s insane,” said Merrick. “I just don’t understand that, but you know we’re moving so fast and the educational pace hasn’t really caught up, so it’s tough to get enough people in the pipeline, and certainly getting diversity in the pipeline too is a real challenge.”

He added that “anything we can do to spur that, we’re trying to actually create programs so that we can really build expertise in all kinds of different groups of people that we can leverage that might not have had a seat at the table before but it’s a long road.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.