An agency's modernization success will be determined by how technology helps it meet its long-term overall objectives, not this year's deadlines.
The American Technology Council’s (ATC) recently released IT Modernization Report puts some firm timelines and recommendations in place for government IT teams. The report outlines a series of key monthly milestones designed to provide federal agencies with a step-by-step pathway toward federal IT modernization -- and, more specifically, to the cloud.
Yet instead of strictly focusing on the report’s various deadlines, it may be better for administrators to direct their energies toward looking at how modernization can benefit their agencies over the long haul. While the milestones are important, they are, ultimately, a means to a greater end: in the words of the report, “better service for citizens in the most cost-effective and secure manner.”
Here are three strategies that can be used to achieve this goal and set agencies up for long-term success.
1. Make the business case for migration
Before pursuing cloud migration, federal IT administrators should review their applications and data assets. They must determine which assets should be migrated to the cloud, left in place, modernized, or discarded in favor of cloud-ready applications or software as a service. Some applications should not or will not need to be migrated. Those housing sensitive data, for example, may be better off remaining on-premises to ensure their security. Likewise, some legacy applications may be inadequate for today’s workloads or security standards, necessitating a move to the cloud.
Administrators should also perform a cost/benefit analysis. In some cases, migration and modernization may not yield the desired cost savings, performance or mission benefits -- another argument for simply leaving things as is. Alternatively, administrators may find that migrating to the cloud now will provide a better and more agile computing and development environment for the future. That environment could enable them to enjoy the benefits of utilization-based pricing and better scalability when developing applications. These long-term benefits support the argument for migration.
2. Consider the security implications, particularly for hybrid clouds
Hybrid cloud environments are already becoming prevalent in federal IT. The General Services Administration’s 2017 Hybrid Cloud Almanac notes that hybrid cloud adoption has increased 13 percent year to year. This is mainly due to its flexibility; agencies can keep their most sensitive applications on-premises while hosting others in the cloud. This provides control and cost and efficiency benefits.
However, hosted applications still need high levels of security assurance. Federal IT administrators must implement security infrastructures that allow their applications to maintain the same level of security, regardless of where they exist. They will also need to be able to easily manage these applications and have some form of control over them, wherever they are provisioned.
Many agency teams are also operating or considering moving toward multicloud environments. In multicloud environments, public and private clouds may be leveraged, along with legacy virtualized and bare metal data centers. It is critical that security be consistent across any and all environments. Administrators working with multiple clouds should consider technologies that allow them to effectively and easily unify and secure those clouds.
3. Move toward a commercial model
One of the ATC’s key intentions is to “help agencies better leverage American innovations through increased use of commercial technology.” Putting aside the fact that the ATC comprises leaders from some of the world’s largest commercial technology companies, the fact remains that most of the innovation surrounding cloud technologies is taking place in the private sector.
Some of the biggest innovations involve automation and orchestration. Manual management of computing applications has traditionally been the norm within agencies. These processes are impractical in the cloud, where automation truly drives time and cost savings. Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) can help agency administrators automate the management of their cloud environments, creating greater efficiencies and helping agencies realize the benefits of the cloud.
In addition to SDN and NFV, there are many other readily available modern solutions that agencies can easily procure. Before, federal agencies may have had to invest in research and development to address a specific need; now they can simply turn to the many commercial off-the-shelf solutions that are available. Many of those solutions are designed with open architectures in mind, allowing for easy integration into existing infrastructures. The solutions also benefit from the support and feedback of multiple customers in different industries, including government.
The IT Modernization Report is a necessary and important guidepost for federal agency cloud migration efforts. It clearly articulates the benefits that agencies can achieve by following a path toward the cloud and network modernization and provides the steps needed to reap those benefits.
Still, it is incumbent upon federal IT administrators to look at the entire picture, rather than the individual milestones contained within the report. They must consider their agencies’ overall objectives and keep in mind their long-term goals, as opposed to only looking at this year’s deadlines.