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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How the State Department can overcome the trade-offs of its multicloud strategy

The State Department knows all about change. It began with a small staff of six under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and now has a global workforce of 69,000 across more than 270 diplomatic missions. To support the work of its “untethered diplomats,” State’s Bureau of Information Resource Management uses a multicloud approach that provides cost-effective, flexible and reliable access to cloud-based resources, allowing staff to seamlessly collaborate, free from the limitations of VPNs and corporate networks.

But even as the cloud enables the transformation of IT service delivery to overseas posts, there are trade-offs to consider. Let’s look at what this means and the ways IT leaders can overcome them.

The multicloud management headache

Multicloud architecture adoption is soaring. Driven by the pandemic, 67% of government leaders said their hybrid strategy had been accelerated by a year or more, according to a February survey. This rapid acceleration has presented challenges. While most agencies have a hybrid strategy in place, they’re having trouble executing it, the survey found.

Each cloud platform and service is unique -- from the underlying technology to the user interface -- and a successful deployment of a multicloud environment can require a steep learning curve, especially for IT teams used to managing on-premises infrastructure.

Many agencies are seeing value in automating away the complexities of multicloud management to avoid overwhelming existing resources. From data migration to configuration management and instrumentation, there are many opportunities to simplify and ease the burden on IT teams.

The nuances of ensuring high-performing clouds

Visibility into performance is also a concern. Diplomats on the front lines need reliable, highly available access to systems and resources. And IT teams must be confident they can deliver on that requirement with holistic insight into multicloud health and the end-user experience.

Here, things get problematic. After all, tried and tested point-based monitoring technologies may not work across complex hybrid environments, creating gaps in visibility, potential downtime and unanticipated costs.

With applications, data and infrastructure hosted both in the cloud and on-premises, an essential step for the State Department and other agencies following suit is to get system monitoring complexity under control and into an integrated view, which eliminates the need for IT teams to keep an eye on multiple monitoring systems and dashboards.

The cybersecurity conundrum

Despite the benefits of handing off some of the responsibility for ensuring a secure infrastructure for mission systems to a cloud provider, there’s a trade-off. The survey found 56% of government IT leaders report managing and securing data across hybrid clouds to be their biggest challenge, even more so than migrating to the cloud (23%).

Security leaders must achieve consistency between on-premises security and cloud security, but this requires new skill sets, new policy and a shift from on-premises to cloud thinking. Any ambiguity or confusion about who’s responsible for what under the shared security model must be addressed. Security automation also comes into play. Applying orchestration and machine-driven actions to security workflows can eliminate much of the guesswork involved in identifying and mitigating threats at scale.

Third-party dependencies limit insight

Vendors can make the cloud sound easy, but the government sets a high bar for cloud providers, and many find it hard to climb the proverbial “FedRAMP” to product authorization -- especially for hybrid infrastructure management and monitoring. This limits choice and can artificially constrain federal agencies. It’s like shopping at a convenience store versus a grocery store. Buyers may find a product, but it may not be what they really want.

Furthermore, vendors may be eager to put the wood behind the arrow to help organizations migrate to the cloud. Still, new elements of hybrid clouds must be monitored and managed and are sometimes outside the purview of all but a handful of experts.

A multicloud approach is smart, but there’s room for improvement

Cloud migration can have a significant impact on U.S. missions at home and abroad, and agencies can balance the many benefits of the cloud without burdening IT teams with overwhelming security, management and monitoring challenges. By sharpening their skills and adopting new tools designed for the complexities of hybrid environments, agencies can have it all -- transforming their operating model and doing more with less -- without the trade-offs.

About the Author

Brandon Shopp is VP of product strategy with SolarWinds.

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