Hybrid cloud: The new normal for federal IT

As cloud adoption increases and grows in complexity, the hybrid cloud is becoming the new normal for agencies as they manage applications, data and services that reside on different platforms.

Some might think we’re still in the early days of cloud adoption with agencies focused on simple application hosting – moving email to the cloud – to meet mandates. However, the numbers tell a different story. Recent projections from International Data Corp. predict that federal cloud services spending alone will reach $1.7 billion by fiscal year 2014. By 2017, the federal government will spend nearly $9 billion on cloud computing.

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As cloud adoption increases and grows in complexity, agencies find that they will compile more and more IT resources — applications, data and services — that reside on different platforms. Whether by design or by accident, hybrid cloud is becoming the new normal for CIOs. It’s no longer an argument of cloud versus traditional IT, or public versus private. It’s all of the above.

On the surface, this kind of mixed IT environment may be viewed as a challenge. One could argue that more IT platforms can only lead to more complication, especially as CIOs continue to rely on older, more traditional IT systems to provide important citizen services via new systems of engagement. More significantly, a hybrid approach can serve as a transformational asset for CIOs.

To start, a hybrid model allows agencies to use their existing infrastructure. Many agencies have significant IT investments, which do not need to be washed away in the race to the cloud. With a hybrid approach, CIOs can use the best resources for the task at hand, a way to connect data and applications to drive new value and respond faster to market changes.

The private sector has dealt with this issue over the past few years as they’ve adopted new cloud and mobile technologies — and they are seeing the benefits of a hybrid approach. According to IBM Center for Applied Insights research, 61 percent of surveyed private sector companies said they will have a hybrid IT environment by the end of this year. By 2015, we expect nearly 75 percent of large enterprises to have hybrid clouds.

Why the move? A hybrid approach provides unmatched choice and flexibility. Businesses are not forced into a single solution — they can pick the best application for the job, regardless of delivery platform. Data can be located wherever regulatory or security requirements dictate. This is a key benefit of a hybrid model for government agencies who must manage sensitive and secure data while still remaining accessible. Using the scalability of the public cloud, non-sensitive computing workloads can be placed where they fit best based on resource availability, operational costs and a host of other factors. With a hybrid model, agencies can quickly move when situations change.

How would a hybrid cloud look for the federal government?  Here’s a hypothetical situation we may see some day.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is responsible for tracking the spread of epidemics, gathering information in a variety forms, quantities and volumes from various sources across many geographies.  When a potential global threat emerges, CDC researchers need to tap into extra computing resources quickly to model the potential impact.  Constantly maintaining a computing network of that scale isn’t necessary in a hybrid model.  The agency can maintain a private cloud with the everyday computing power it needs but then tap into public cloud resources as needed.

In addition, a hybrid model allows data to be shared seamlessly across platforms. Enterprises can more easily integrate next-generation application platforms — for mobile phones and all sorts of intelligent devices — with their existing systems. By assembling ready-to-use services on various cloud platforms, enterprises can innovate more rapidly and launch new digital products and services while building new apps for customers.

The hybrid model is growing in the government and will continue to take hold as agencies understand its unique benefits. The private sector’s experience with hybrid clouds provides a strong roadmap for government agencies. However, the private sector has shown that the benefits of a hybrid approach cannot be realized by accident or without the right strategy. It requires a thoughtful approach and design.

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