Rigorous testing, continuous education and visibility into hybrid-cloud environments can help IT managers breathe easier.
Hybrid IT -- where some elements of an IT infrastructure are hosted in the cloud while others are managed on-premises -- is continuing to gain popularity, and for good reason. Hosting services for infrastructure elements and some applications can be extraordinarily cost effective, provide better scalability and alleviate many management burdens for time-strapped IT teams.
However, government IT professionals understand that not everything should be moved to the cloud. Security concerns and the need to maintain tight control over some applications are pushing many in the opposite direction. According to a recent SolarWinds IT Trends Report focusing on the public sector, 29 percent of IT professionals who indicated they migrated applications and infrastructure to the cloud ultimately brought at least some of these applications back on premises. Further, only 1 percent of respondents to the same survey admitted to hosting all of their infrastructure in the cloud.
Why are some IT managers pulling back from the cloud? The concern is primarily because they must contend with specific security and compliance regulations that make the prospect of ceding control to a cloud services provider very unsettling. Indeed, 45 percent of survey respondents cited security and compliance as the No. 1 reason they brought their applications and infrastructure back on premises, with 14 percent citing poor performance as another factor.
Clearly, the cloud is not meant for everything. The performance of some workloads and applications will inevitably suffer once they are moved off-premises.
How do IT managers know which applications are safe to migrate and how to manage hosted workloads effectively? These three strategies can help answer those questions:
1. Test to ensure stability and reliability
Teams should work with their cloud service providers to conduct load and stress testing to ensure that applications will perform optimally in their new environment. They should keep an eye out for instability, incompatibilities and other issues that could potentially cause service quality or reliability issues, only proceeding once everything has been properly validated.
2. Maintain visibility and control
IT professionals do not like relinquishing control -- especially in government, where managers maintain a strong hold on their solutions to lock down security. As it happens, the majority of professionals who responded to the IT Trends Report said that lack of control and visibility into the performance of their cloud-based applications and infrastructures was a top challenge and potential impediment to hybrid IT success.
Managers must maintain unfettered visibility into the performance of infrastructures and applications, even if they are being hosted offsite. The goal is to be able to monitor pieces that have migrated to the cloud the same way teams keep an eye on the in-house assets. Seeing potential problems and being able to diagnose them quickly can ameliorate much of the anxiety derived from moving workloads to the cloud. Although frameworks and controls help mitigate risk, there will always remain a certain level of uncertainty around security controls and access from the cloud service provider.
3. Invest in continuous cloud-centric education
Managers who operate hybrid IT environments may be dealing with multiple cloud providers and increased complexity. Compounding matters is the fact that many are being asked to manage the business end of their cloud deployments in addition to their associated technologies. They have become responsible for negotiating with cloud providers, procuring their services and managing those partnerships. Funding for these efforts is seldom discussed, but it can be a particularly vexing issue for government customers. Commercial organizations are very aware of the difference between capital expenditures and operational expenditures. Government funding is neither that simple nor that consistent, which can cause budget challenges and additional concerns.
The survey results also point to another concern: the skills gap. A significant number of respondents (62 percent) said hybrid IT has forced them to acquire new skills. Meanwhile, 63 percent said an IT skills gap was a large challenge, and 38 percent do not possess the skills needed to manage hybrid IT environments.
A commitment to continuous cloud-centric education initiatives could bring these numbers down. Agencies should invest in workshops and continuous education for employees. Managers must then make a concerted effort to pass these lessons on to their federal IT professionals. Until this becomes a common part of training and operations, continuous reinforcement is key.
To paraphrase an old saying, the path toward hybrid IT is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have a long way to go before the complexities of managing cloud resources is ironed out. While there are many proven benefits to a hybrid IT approach, there remain some challenges, too. Fortunately, federal IT professionals can alleviate much of the stress associated with those challenges by engaging in rigorous testing, continuous education and validation, and ensuring proper visibility into their environments.
NEXT STORY: NSF pairs funding with cloud credits