Federal agencies are finding their way to cloud services in increasing numbers, and through a variety of mission-specific motivations. Far from a one-size-fits-all mindset, agency decisions to undertake cloud migrations need to be evaluated through multiple project outcome priorities. Here’s a rundown of some recent agency moves to the cloud, with some advice from solutions provider Force 3 about steps that may make the move easier.

Fed Cloud Projects in Process

The Department of Veterans Affairs has migrated more than 100 applications to the cloud. It is one of the top three spenders on cloud computing in the Federal government, according to a recent analysis by Bloomberg Government. Collectively, Federal agencies spent $6.6 billion on cloud computing in fiscal 2020, up from $6.1 billion in fiscal 2019, Bloomberg Government found.

This fall, the Coast Guard launched an enterprisewide virtual healthcare platform, which helped it respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Marine Corps is exploring opportunities to enhance its cloud-based recruiting information support system. The Federal Election Commission plans to move legacy applications to the cloud, and the Air Force will move legacy systems with hundreds of users. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published its cloud strategy in July 2020.

These efforts illustrate the landscape of the Federal government’s move to the cloud. Some agencies are just beginning, and others have deep experience. A small cloud project typically serves as a pivot point for modernization across the agency, noted Adam Grandt, managing director at GSA’s Cloud Adoption and Infrastructure Optimization Center of Excellence (CoE) at a January training event. The process begins by developing modern IT habits, then focusing on security, and then turning to acquisition, Grandt said.

Policy Drivers

This sequence aligns with the federal cloud strategy, Cloud Smart. According to a 2020 MeriTalk survey underwritten by Dell Technologies and Microsoft, 71 percent of Federal IT managers said the Cloud Smart policy is helping to increase the pace of cloud adoption. However, more than two-thirds of government IT respondents to the survey said the policy does not address some barriers to cloud. For example, 32 percent of Federal IT managers said they would like to see Cloud Smart address data management.

NOAA’s cloud strategy addresses the need for solutions that help manage spiraling data stores: “In the foreseeable future, the volume and velocity of our data are expected to increase exponentially with the advent of new observing system and data-acquisition capabilities, placing a premium on our capacity and wherewithal to scale the IT infrastructure and services to support this growth. Modernizing our infrastructure requires leveraging cloud services as a solution to meet future demand.”

Upfront Analysis

Agencies’ desire for data management guidance as they move to the cloud is well founded. Before migrating to the cloud, agencies must take data management policies into consideration, because they apply no matter where data resides, said Jeff Grunewald, data center practice manager at government IT solutions provider Force 3. Agencies must also assess their data usage requirements before moving to the cloud.

Grunewald offered a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of moving to the cloud before this assessment. Force 3 is working with an agency that is moving analytical and reporting applications to the cloud. When those applications were on premises, employees learned to schedule their use at specific times so that they wouldn’t overload the apps. In the cloud, everyone can use the applications at once, because the compute resources are no longer constrained. That’s an operational improvement, but it also introduced a challenge: ensuring the agency did not exceed its budget for data usage in the cloud.

“We provided some examples of monitoring information in their current environment, and we discovered they weren’t fully utilizing the tools [they had]. That’s a common occurrence,” Grunewald noted. “For example, we all use a word processor, and if we use 15 percent of the features, we’re considered a power user even though we’re not using 85 percent of the features available to us. Agencies … sometimes don’t know all of the other capabilities they have.”

Force 3 suggested that the agency examine needs across its environments – on premises and hybrid cloud. Once the agency understood its usage requirements, it could implement monitoring capabilities to help make the best use of its budget.

Enterprisewide Monitoring

Because cloud migration represents massive change, spanning strategy as well as financial and operational models, it’s important to maintain the status quo when possible, Grunewald advised. For example, agencies should assess their current monitoring tools to determine if they can provide a holistic view and enable management across data center and cloud operations.

“From a process perspective, the cloud is already introducing enough change, so agencies want to maintain the processes they currently have as much as possible,” Grunewald said. “When they look at tools and their use cases, it’s important to ask: ‘What tools will allow them to monitor all parts of the environment together?’ Moving to the cloud is not a time to introduce silos. It’s a time to break down silos and look holistically across everything.”

Agencies can also ease the path to the cloud by beginning the transition with a private cloud in their current environment, Grunewald recommended. It’s the first step in Force 3’s Bridge to the Cloud methodology. Doing so enables agencies to monitor and assess applications operating in the cloud and address problems early, while they have full control of the environment and everything in it. Then, “when they move to their full hybrid cloud, they know how things are really working, and they can move [applications and data] with less difficulty,” he noted.

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