hybrid cloud

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Why hybrid cloud can get agencies over the hump

For all the talk of a transition to public cloud in federal IT circles, there is a disconnect between promise and reality. While there have been significant cloud programs to date, a widespread transition to the cloud has yet to be made, despite four years having passed since the Cloud First initiative. But this reality may be changing very soon.

To illustrate the point, IDC has projected that federal spending on cloud technology will reach $9 billion by 2017. And yet through the end of 2014, only 6 percent of virtual machines were hosted in the cloud – 94 percent were still on-premise.

Why the dramatic discrepancy? From our perspective, the options available to the government to date have been limited, requiring significant rework of infrastructure, applications and retraining personnel. The ‘efficiencies’ of the cloud model have not been as motivational as had been hoped.

All government organizations operate some combination of on-site and off-site IT environments and work to manage a combination of new and legacy applications and infrastructure. Hybrid cloud gives civilian and defense agencies a way to leverage existing investments in applications and infrastructure and avoid the complexity of rearchitecting for a public cloud infrastructure that is radically different from what is in place today.

Uncertainty regarding security certifications for the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP,  have contributed to the cloud adoption lag, but another reason for this delay is that agencies are wary of having to change their current infrastructure so radically.

The changes, however, do not have to be so drastic.  Agencies should look for a hybrid cloud solution that acts like an extension of their existing infrastructure, not a separate stovepipe. This provides real choice and flexibility for data and applications. It will truly jump-start the migration workloads to the cloud and – just as importantly – back again as needed. Transitioning to a hybrid cloud with proven technologies removes or reduces much of the risk involved in adopting cloud, while also offering better cost savings and leveraging existing technical and personnel resources.

An analogy might be a growing business opening a new branch office, as opposed to acquiring a smaller competitor. When businesses grow organically, all of the IT processes and protocols remain the same. In the second acquisition scenario, everything needs to be relearned and adapted – new data formats, new processes, new management consoles. 

Until now, moving to the cloud meant agencies had to learn new processes and convert data into different formats. This greatly hinders data and application flexibility, and it discourages moving anything but basic applications, such as email, to the cloud. It also raises legitimate concerns about data security and vendor lock-in. With the right kind of hybrid cloud platform, workloads can flow back and forth from the infrastructure platform the agency already has in place.

This type of cloud flexibility sets the stage for other efficiencies as well. The role of internal IT staff begins to change. The hybrid cloud can automate a good amount of day-to-day maintenance duties, freeing up staff to be more “solution broker” than “problem fixer.”

One of the best expressions along these lines is one I learned from Lt. General Ronnie Hawkins at the Defense Information Systems Agency. He coined the term Resource Reallocation Opportunity, or R2O. Time and expense saved can be invested elsewhere to further the mission.

Freed from the constant grind of just “keeping the network up,” IT staff can deliver capabilities to their internal department clients and have more time to present their compute and storage requirements to contractors, furthering the transition to a software-defined enterprise supported by clear, tight service-level agreements developed in a collaborative manner.

Virtualization unleashed amazing efficiency and performance benefits for government IT systems. Moving to the hybrid cloud will take those benefits to an entirely new level. The next few years will bring amazing advancements to government IT, and I'm excited to be a part of that transformation.

About the Author

Bill Rowan is vice president federal, VMware Public Sector.

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