cloud framework (Gumpanat/

Are you sure that application belongs in the cloud?

While there is significant pressure for agencies to move systems to the cloud, rushing in without doing the proper homework is likely to produce problems, not savings. 

Mapping legacy applications before moving them into the cloud can be cumbersome, but that information is critical to projecting an accurate return on investment,  Defense Information Systems Agency Cloud Portfolio Office Chief John Hale said. Agencies should also conduct app rationalization and inventory checks before deciding to move into the cloud, he added.

“When you start moving into the cloud, it’s not rocket science.  It is about computers and storage, where infrastructure as a service in the easy part,” Hale said at FCW's April 18 Cloud Summit.  But “all of the vendors offer their special sauce," he added, and while that "creates a lot of functionality,” it also means the benefits can vary widely depending on the exact configuration.

To help Department of Defense agencies decide which cloud platforms and services work best for them, the DOD CIO’s office is developing a tool "where mission partners will be able to lay out their requirements, and they can find the best option based on their workloads,” Hale said.  “It does a compare and contrast of the major vendors and helps mission partners figure what helps to meet their needs.” 

The tool will be delivered to the DOD CIO’s office by the end of April, Hale told GCN, but he said he is not sure when it will be made available to mission partners.

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, Executive Director for Demand Management John Everett said his agency is already seeing a payoff from moving into the cloud.

With, a one-stop shop where veterans can apply for services, VA saw an 85 percent reduction in cost compared to using a data center, Everett said, and the time to deploy code updates went from 90 days to one.

Everett also echoed Hale's point about researching the best solution for a given mission. He pointed to Gartner research that found there are approximately 65,000 configuration combinations in the Microsoft Azure cloud and 1.75 million with Amazon Web Services.

Not every application will see such gains in the cloud, however.  At the Department of Health and Human Services, the decision to move legacy applications to the cloud is made on a case-by-case basis.

“We want to figure out better methods for acquisition in the cloud,” HHS Deputy CTO Ed Simcox, said.  “We have a lot of COBOL and mainframe applications, and we need to look into refactoring, which we are doing for a couple of our high-value assets.”

Simcox said it could be possible that only 10 percent of applications would require a significant refactoring or code rewrite to move them to the cloud. For the others, he said, it makes sense to “lift and shift” to the cloud, rather than changing large portions of the app for the new environment. 

And while Department of Homeland Security Cloud Architect Richie Balkissoon warned that some workloads and applications can easily cost more in the cloud, he encouraged agencies to look for the cases where move makes sense.

“If it is easier to modernize and shift for straightforward applications, then those are the ones that we usually see cost avings,” Balkissoon said. “For some of our internal applications, we did do a lift and shift and we are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars … you need to be careful about what applications that you chose to do a lift and shift on.”

And sometimes, Simcox said, it's the business process that should be updated to take advantage of cloud-native commercial services.

“We have been able to do reverse customizations and change business practices to match best practices especially around human resources so we can take advantage of the modernization efforts of our software vendors,” Simcox said. “We have a couple of solid successes where we are getting back to the realm of reasonableness, where we can configure rather than customizing.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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