How agencies decide when moving to the cloud makes sense

Agencies moving legacy applications to the cloud must optimize for the environment, government technology leaders advise.

Marine Corps Chief Technology Advisor Daniel Corbin thinks there are many benefits to moving the military’s operations into the cloud, but he sees challenges for the marines who are operating in garrison environments across the globe.

“We want to embrace the cloud, but we have to build competencies when it comes to buying, training and building for it,” Corbin said at an Aug. 23 FCW Cloud Summit.  “It is not a fast migration to [make] these systems that are 20 years old become cloud friendly.”

Cybersecurity in a cloud environment also creates problems when it comes to patching.  Corbin said toolkits can be developed in the field and containerization can provide added benefits. “Right now, we don’t have the technology, but we think that mobile cloud services are maturing at a rate that they will be ready when we want to put this [environment] into place,” said. 

Corbin and other speakers at the event stressed that agencies looking to move legacy systems to the cloud must optimize their apps, infrastructure, acquisition and even staff.

The Navy has a five-year plan to move all of its data to the commercial cloud, according to Dan DelGrosso, the Navy’s technical director under the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems.  The Navy plans to move the majority of its data to the cloud by fiscal year 2022, he said.

“We need to have some standardization when it comes to dealing with data, which puts a lot of pressure on our service provider,” DelGrosso said.  “If you have different contracts, it gets very convoluted, and we are trying to avoid that.”

DelGrosso said the Navy plans to submit a plan to standardize and define government and industry roles by the end of September. 

Civilian agencies have their own cloud migration challenges.  When Maria Roat took over as CIO for the Small Business Administration, she said she found four different datasets for inventories didn’t match and decided to stop putting additional information at the agency’s primary data center.

“Our driver to move into the cloud was get out of the data center, and we started moving quickly because we didn’t have a choice,” Roat said.  “We do have a few systems that we won’t move to the cloud, but those apps will [be] segregated from the rest of the environment.”

SBA has no plans to go back to on-premise data centers, but moving to the cloud does require more training for employees, Roat said.  The agency is currently working on strategic IT workforce plan to determine where it should go in the next few years toward modernization.  

At Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, acting CTO Tony Cossa said he's found it challenging to work across the “extremely federated” agencies under his purview.  Cossa added that the CIO council group for USDA components has been particularly helpful in driving shared services.

“You don’t want to have duplication of technology, but we want to drive value through the investments that we have already made,” Cossa said.  “Oversight and management can become a red tape issue when looking at whether the enterprise approach is balanced.”

When it comes to approving cloud services for agency use, speakers said, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program can help identify pre-vetted products that could work for their missions.  However, Social Security Administration CTO John Morenz also urged agencies to do their own research.

“FedRAMP provides a baseline, but you need to understand that not everything is under FedRAMP controls,” Morenz said.  “If you are going to use [FedRAMP], then you need to understand where the products are in terms of your agency’s controls.”

SSA is currently focused on building new native apps for the cloud rather than moving legacy systems into that environment, he said. 

“We have moved some tools to the environment and not the applications, but then we had to move those into the cloud due to latency,” Morenz said.  “But we don’t have any critical apps in the cloud at the moment.”

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