getting to the cloud

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Making the most of the hybrid cloud

Cloud services rank No. 2 on state and local CIO’s top 10 priorities list for 2015, an emphatic indication of how essential they have become to day-to-day and mission critical operations. It is clear that agencies are moving beyond just dipping their toes into the cloud, as 20 percent of states are now highly invested in cloud services, according to a survey of CIOs conducted by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, Grant Thornton and TechAmerica.

State and local government agencies are also looking to cloud solutions to to deliver innovative public services in the face of tight budgets, resources and manpower.  Cloud solutions not only allow for more flexibility and scalability but also utility-based pricing, which shifts expenses from capital to operational.

For these reasons, 2015 has become the year when the cloud evolved from a solution for individual projects to a true piece of “shared infrastructure” utilized across multiple agencies. This shift has pointed agencies to a hybrid cloud environment, which provides a broad portfolio of IT capabilities including innovation, agility, scalability, cost and security.

Hybrid clouds, which offer agencies the control and security of a private cloud, while allowing them to leverage the elasticity and scalability of a public cloud, have gained favor across all levels of government. Private cloud services can be costly to manage and require prohibitive upfront capital expenses, while public cloud services risk vendor-lock in, restricting the ability of agencies to fully benefit from evolving cloud provider services and cost competitiveness.

The hybrid cloud is growing in appeal for state and local governments based on several key benefits it delivers. It gives agencies the ability to:

  • Stay on top of demand fluctuations with the scalability of the public cloud.
  • Move workloads from one cloud environment to another as required throughout the data life cycle.
  • Keep sensitive data in-house.
  • Leverage on-premises infrastructure for critical processes.
  • Flexibly store data in different clouds based on regulatory requirements.
  • Access economies of scale without exposing mission critical applications.

Optimizing the hybrid cloud

Data lies at the core of the hybrid cloud, and there are a number of strategies agencies should consider to optimize the hybrid cloud and fully leverage its benefits:

Combine public compute with private enterprise storage. A hybrid cloud allows agencies to use public compute and public networks and servers, along with private cloud storage in order to retain control over their most sensitive asset – data. In addition to delivering cost savings and elasticity, agencies can leverage the performance and availability of dedicated storage while obtaining disaster recovery and business continuity at a lower cost.

Create a single, cohesive data environment. Agencies are relying on multiple cloud providers, which introduces the challenge of managing data dispersed across all environments. Key to addressing this challenge is adopting a “data fabric.” Imagine if all the data management elements in the different clouds on which agencies place their data were well integrated, cohesive and coherent, like a seamlessly woven fabric managed with the same set of tools, independent of cloud provider. This architecture is the data fabric for the hybrid cloud, and it allows agencies to control, integrate, move and consistently manage data across a public cloud or within a private data center.

Employ policy-driven data management. IDC predicts nearly 90 percent of new spending on Internet and communications technology will be on cloud-based platforms in the next six years. To become that pervasive, security concerns will need to be addressed. In a hybrid cloud environment, sensitive data can be kept in-house if policy-driven data management principles are applied. Doing so can help eliminate manual errors associated with configuring data protection in a dynamic environment, while automation and policy-based management reduce the possibility of user errors. This provides a higher level of assurance that the data is protected and hence available.  

Prevent vendor lock-in. Data has a weight problem, and moving data across different cloud environments can be challenging. Large data transfers can take time agencies may not have, and the public cloud component creates the potential for vendor lock-in. State and local agencies embracing the hybrid cloud will also become more comfortable working with multiple providers. Avoidance of lock-in, leverage in negotiations, or simply a desire for choice will drive them to seek a solution that does not lock them in to any single provider.

Doing more with less is the new and likely enduring reality for state and local government agencies. Often, this mandate requires tradeoffs between cost, efficiency and security. The hybrid cloud lessens the need for compromise by offering the functionality and flexibility needed while still allowing agencies to leverage existing resources.

About the Author

Matt Lawson is principal architect at NetApp.

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