How virtualization helps agencies meet their 'cloud first' promise

Six-and-a-half years after the Obama administration announced its “cloud first" initiative, federal agencies have begun truly ramping up their cloud deployment efforts. According to Deltek, federal cloud computing spending is projected to grow to $6.4 billion in fiscal year 2021 -- an impressive compound annual growth rate of 15 percent since 2016.

Commensurate with this growth is the rise of cloud-based offerings from Microsoft, Amazon and others. Over the past few years, both the Microsoft Azure Government Cloud and Amazon Web Services GovCloud have experienced significant growth in the government space. Indeed, many federal agencies, including the NSA, the CIA, the Department of Defense, along with hundreds of local governments, are using one of these two services.

In addition, the proliferation of government-centric marketplaces has created a rapidly expanding cloud ecosystem for federal agencies. For instance, the recently opened AWS Marketplace for GovCloud gives IT teams access to more than 500 cloud-centric products that address storage, security, networking and other needs. Having access to these kinds of tools was unheard of only a year ago and speaks to the maturity of the government cloud ecosystem.

Vendors have responded in kind by providing virtual versions of traditional hardware solutions through these services. Virtualization of switches, routers and other tools is helping to address the “one server, one application” problem and reducing server sprawl. These solutions offer the same features and power as their physical cousins, but with some key new benefits for cloud-driven agencies.

Virtual firewalls, routers and switches can easily be augmented and scaled to match network demands because they are built for cloud environments and dynamic workloads. Unlike hardware, they are environment-agnostic, easily upgradeable -- making them ideal for security and compliance -- and simple to integrate with other elements of an agency’s IT infrastructure.

Better scalability and agility

Earlier this year, Congress renewed its push for the Modernizing Government Technology Act, which calls for agencies to move on from legacy IT systems and toward digital transformation. MGT Act specifically cites a transition to “cloud computing and other innovative platforms and technologies.” This stake in the ground will help continue to drive government cloud adoption and maturity, supported by Amazon and Microsoft’s extensive marketplaces. Agencies will have resources through which they can easily adopt solutions that will enable them to create more scalable and agile networks.

The inclusion of MGT Act provisions as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act signifies that digital transformation is now considered a necessity, as legacy systems are ill equipped to handle the demands of increasingly disparate and global networks. These systems are not easy to upgrade (if they even can be upgraded), making them inadequate for handling increased data and cybersecurity threats.

Easier procurement processes

Government-sanctioned marketplaces make it easier to purchase virtual solutions. They offer regions built specifically for agencies that must stringently adhere to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program and International Traffic in Arms Regulations  compliance frameworks. They also feature rigorous testing processes designed to ensure that the solutions they offer provide optimal functionality, performance and high security standards.

Many agencies require their IT teams to procure software through these marketplaces because they follow government guidelines and make it easier to provision services for use with their respective clouds. For instance, AWS GovCloud allows Amazon customers to simply log onto their portals, select their preferred services and payment models and quickly spin up. It’s a painless process that greatly expedites agencies’ efforts to use virtualization solutions within their cloud deployments.

Greater efficiencies

A key driver of digital transformation is the need for more efficient and consolidated network resources. This is evidenced by data center and IT infrastructure consolidation and the acceleration of federal cloud migration efforts.

The virtualization tools offered through government marketplaces support these efforts by allowing agencies to unify capabilities across a varying set of components, thereby helping decrease network complexity. Virtualization also enables orchestration, automated provisioning, workload mobility and multitenancy, as well as solutions built on a commitment to open standards that can integrate seamlessly into any IT environment. Collectively, these capabilities and benefits can result in significantly increased network efficiencies.

That’s virtualization’s bottom line. It offers a better, more efficient and future-ready network infrastructure that’s just as powerful, but far more flexible and secure than what came before. As government agencies continue to invest in cloud solutions –-- and as companies make them even more readily available -- organizations will be able to leverage these solutions to effectively complement their digital transformation efforts.

About the Author

Bob Dunn is vice president, global governments, with Juniper Networks.


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