As someone who’s worked in both the public and private sector — overseeing IT for government agencies as a federal CIO and developing go-to-market strategies for companies as a tech executive — I’ve learned that vendors and government buyers both have common blind spots about the value of innovation. When introducing a new product, technology companies often fail to appreciate the complex federal procurement process and the security and compliance requirements needed to insert technology in production environments. Meanwhile, government agencies rarely get a full understanding of the benefits of new technology until it’s been fully proven in the private sector.
The Promise Of Public Cloud
One of the most important areas of technological change for federal agencies is cloud computing. The public cloud offers government agencies a unique and cost-effective way to update their data infrastructure. A key benefit is pay-as-you-go scalability, which means that agencies don’t have to make large initial investments in hardware and software solutions. This is particularly important because increasing upfront costs adds much more complexity and time to federal procurement and approval processes. Cloud computing gives agencies the flexibility to start with small deployments and gradually expand to update and modernize their entire infrastructure.
Public cloud infrastructure also alleviates many of the pressures placed on IT staff when deploying innovative technologies. Updating and management of cloud infrastructure is largely outsourced to the cloud provider, allowing IT to focus on critical projects rather than day-to-day administration. The easy scalability of cloud infrastructure also means that governments can respond quickly to greater demand on the infrastructure and rapidly adopt new IT use cases without worrying about overprovisioning or underprovisioning infrastructure if their needs change.
Transitioning From Aspirational To Operational
The benefits of the public cloud have been apparent for years. According to a 2018 report, 81% of those working in the public sector consider cloud solutions one of the most fruitful technologies they can invest in, but government agencies have been slower than the private sector to take advantage, partly because of stricter security and compliance requirements for agencies. Although public cloud providers have created solutions designed to meet strict federal guidelines, they still require a different set of standard operating procedures to ensure data is protected. Lack of understanding around these unique procedures has led to government clients choosing the path of least resistance by continuing to rely on their current infrastructure and legacy environments.
In the same vein, working with public cloud environments requires training and skill sets that many federal IT teams haven’t developed. In a recent survey my company conducted, 51% of public-sector respondents said their IT teams spend 30-70% of their time managing data and apps in public cloud environments. When agencies don’t have access to IT teams that can operate and manage public cloud environments, they continue with legacy approaches that are less efficient.
Taking The Optimal Path: A Hybrid Cloud Approach
For federal agencies, the key to unlocking the value of the public cloud in the face of these current obstacles is to take a hybrid approach. Hybrid cloud architectures offer the best of both worlds through private cloud infrastructure for on-premise data centers and access to infinitely scalable public cloud capacity.
While the cloud offers savings in certain cases, on-premise data centers continue to be more cost-effective for other workloads. Using on-premise infrastructure as part of a hybrid cloud environment also protects organizations from the cost and performance risks associated with cloud vendor lock-in if all their data is handled by a single cloud provider.
Within a hybrid cloud environment, the public cloud offers immediate benefits for workloads with lower performance requirements. Archiving is one of the workloads that government agencies can move to the cloud to quickly realize value. Public organizations have large datasets that need to be retained but don’t need to be accessed frequently, and these take up valuable space in on-premise data centers. Moving archived data to the cloud also lessens the burden on IT staff to manage growing on-premise data centers.
Disaster recovery and business continuity offer another immediate opportunity for public-sector organizations to tap into the value of the public cloud. Most federal agencies still rely on static infrastructure served by idle data centers that sit unused until there is an emergency. Instead of maintaining these data centers on-premise — where they function as a very expensive insurance policy — agencies can shift to an on-demand model with cloud infrastructure. Under a hybrid cloud approach, if the primary data center experiences an outage, the organization can spin up a new environment in the public cloud to temporarily provide continuity of operations.
Selecting the right public cloud partner for a hybrid approach depends on three main factors: security, compliance and integration. Different cloud vendors handle overall security differently by leveraging in-house teams to offer 24/7 support or relying on third-party security consultants. Find out if their team includes forensics and incident handlers and how open they are about reporting security incidents. For compliance, all federal agencies need to select a cloud vendor that meets the FedRAMP standards, and organizations working with the Department of Defense need to pay attention to SRG IL 4/5 requirements. Finally, agencies that already have invested in automation and orchestration tools should evaluate whether cloud vendors offer open integration that supports them. If the public cloud vendor doesn’t offer open integration for the tools your agency uses, that could add significant time and cost to getting your hybrid cloud environment up and running smoothly.
Technology providers need to focus on delivering faster ROI in order to convince public-sector buyers that cloud computing is worthwhile. Solutions that shift archiving and disaster recovery workloads to the public cloud provide an immediate benefit to government organizations that need to decommission unnecessary data centers and reduce their overall data footprint while streamlining administration and increasing their flexibility. This reduces costs while freeing valuable and often overworked employees to focus on higher-value tasks. The hybrid-cloud model offers a foundation for innovative tech companies to introduce cutting-edge solutions in a way that agencies can actually use to deliver measurable results.