Why agencies need 'cloud-smart' apps

You can move old, clunky applications to the cloud, but they'll still be old, clunky applications, federal IT execs say.

Application migration and integration is a huge issue that should not be overlooked when moving to cloud infrastructures, representatives from the General Services Administration and Justice Department told a Washington, D.C., audience.

In fact, agency managers must make sure applications are "cloud smart."

“Don’t ignore application migration and integration,” said David McClure, associate administrator for GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies.


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“It’s a huge issue,” as agencies move applications to virtualized environments, he said. “Guess what? Those applications still process and manipulate data in the same horrible way they did before,” McClure noted.

Agencies may get the efficiency of storage and processing power by moving these older, customized applications to the cloud. But they are still the same dirty, old applications built in-house that might not be running too well in that cloud environment because of the technology shift.

Application migration is one of many issues that agencies are learning how to handle as they move to the cloud, McClure told an audience of government and industry representatives at a cloud computing seminar held by1105 Media’s Federal Computer Week, Nov. 29. Federal Computer Week is GCN's sister publication.

Cloud computing provides on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or interaction from the service provider.

Agencies have to determine if their applications are “cloud smart,” said Angel Santa, deputy CIO of the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, who told the audience of his division’s experiences setting up a private cloud.

OJP supports and provides grants to the criminal justice community, including state, local, tribal organizations and nonprofit faith-based organizations. To operate more efficiently, OJP built a distributed, private cloud, implemented across three data centers in Washington, D.C., Rockville, Md., and Dallas, Texas.

The office is replicating data in near real-time, within 10 to 15 seconds, Santa said. There are technologies that Santa’s team is evaluating that will cut back that time even more. However, Santa warned, “you can implement as much technology as possible, but, at the core, you have to look at applications and how they commit data to your database."

So managers have to find out if they have cloud-smart applications that can recognize the dispersion of the cloud. If an agency has multiple sites, can the applications put into a cloud environment understand that there is a site in Dallas and how to maximize those resources while utilizing resources in Rockville?

Are your applications virtualized to a point where it is a package that has all of the executables that includes all libraries, so they run anywhere? Santa asked. Are the applications lightweight, meaning based on Java or HTML so they can run with minimal dependencies on local data centers?

There are a lot of nonlightweight applications in the government from the 1960s, 1970s and some Santa said he implemented in the 1980s. Many of them still have value. But agencies should carefully consider moving applications to the cloud that depend on specific resources. For example, an application that operates with three CPUs and a certain amount of memory and can only operate in that way may or may not be a candidate for the cloud.

Some applications are heavily dependent on the local CPU, such as display information that might have a graphics package that has to be operated on a desktop PC. Other applications are tied to local back-end databases.

“You really have to evaluate everything,” Santa said.

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