September 1, 2012
As federal agencies strive to comply with a mandate to move computer applications to the cloud, meeting the requirements in an environment of shrinking budgets can be daunting. Here are five points to consider in determining which information technology functions are most suited to a cloud-based service and how to migrate them with minimal disruption.
The Best Match
Not all cloud services are created equal—make sure the one you choose can meet the needs of the application you are moving and its users. Look at the broader set of requirements associated with the application and consider the best match—a private, public or hybrid cloud. Private clouds offer more control and security, for example, but recent outages affirm they are geared for noncritical applications.
Issues to consider in the cloud include security, performance, privacy, compliance, disaster recovery and service levels. Is the application mission-critical? If so, it might not be the best one to move first. If you have to move it, then choose an environment that delivers consistent availability—99.5 percent is not good enough for an operation that cannot tolerate downtime.
Going It Alone
The more interdependent applications are, the less likely it is that they can be moved easily to the cloud. Applications tend to live in clusters, sharing data in support of a bigger business process. Moving one that is central to a complex network would be extremely challenging and cumbersome.
Determine the boundaries of the cluster and which application can be disconnected without disruption. Complex operations, such as enterprise resource planning and supply chain management, aren’t the best candidates for initial migration. Service-oriented architecture that stands alone or is loosely coupled, such as human resources or project management, is a great place to start.
Applications that have been virtualized are the first to review for migration because they are already online and mobile. Moving them to the cloud amplifies the benefits of virtualization by increasing agility, reducing costs and giving IT managers more control.
Another consideration is the data itself. Is it analytical or transactional? It’s better to migrate applications that have smaller data sets and simple data structures. Complex files require a lot of time and effort to get the data cleaned up and ready to migrate.
A cloud service that can tie into an agency’s existing framework for ID management and access control is crucial. IT managers should avoid rebuilding these systems in the cloud, which could create silos similar to the ones that exist now.
By simply lifting these operations and putting them in the cloud, an agency could see some savings. But much of the efficiency and elegance of the cloud would be lost without centralized ID management. It’s important to have single sign-on access across multiple cloud applications, and IT managers still would have control over who gets access to which applications.
Complex regulations govern the management of federal IT applications. IT systems must be monitored continuously, and incident response demands specific protocols. It’s important to determine how compliance with mandates such as the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act would affect an application in the cloud. For a health care application, for example, it might be best to wait until a private or hybrid cloud enclave is built specifically to meet the unique compliance requirements and regularly check against baseline metrics.
Moving IT functions to the cloud provides significant advantages and opportunities, including cost savings, energy efficiencies and operational improvements. At the most fundamental level, cloud computing transforms both delivery and consumption of technology into a services model that balances resources with demand. Chief information officers should view this transformation as a key driver of organizational change at their agencies.
Doug Bourgeois, vice president and federal chief cloud executive at VMware, previously was chief information officer at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
September 1, 2012