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Mixed signals about the benefits of cloud deployments suggest the need for stronger leadership around cloud migrations and more communications about the results before, during and after the move.
Cloud computing has permeated U.S. government operations in the six years since the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy and the cloud-first policy were first issued. But are agencies gaining all the promised benefits of moving to the cloud?
It's hard to tell based on results of a recent survey of federal executives. Among the 61 percent of survey respondents who offered opinions on whether support for cloud technology had changed at their agency since 2011, more than half (54 percent) indicated that it had increased. At the same time, only one in four (24 percent) respondents said cloud computing has had a positive impact on their organization. More strikingly, nearly 30 percent of respondents reported seeing no noticeable impact from cloud deployment, and 40 percent did not know whether the impact has been positive or negative.
Is no news good news?
Mixed signals revealed by the survey results point to the need for stronger leadership around cloud migrations and, just as importantly, more communications about the results before, during and after deployment.
Users not appearing to notice the shift might suggest that the transition has been a smooth one. However, given the potential pitfalls of cloud migration, that may not be a safe assumption. Moving legacy applications to the cloud can mean porting associated problems. For example, an unstable, resource-hogging app can actually increase the cost of memory, storage and servers. Likewise, moving an app to the cloud, and away from its data source, can disrupt data-transfer timing and create encryption conflicts.
So what can federal departments and agencies do to anticipate, mitigate and possibly avoid such deployment problems and realize the benefits of the cloud?
Four best practices for effective cloud migration
The importance of strengthening change management around the cloud rollout to help promote its potential benefits cannot be overemphasized. As noted earlier, fewer than one in three survey respondents expressed an opinion on cloud’s value to their organization. This suggests that CIOs, chief financial officers and other federal executives who have been strong proponents of cloud adoption may want to get more involved in post-migration efforts to validate and communicate what value has been achieved.
Another leading practice is to incorporate tools and techniques into cloud capability development that help validate and demonstrate cloud’s value. For example, including cloud cost transparency capabilities in the migration strategy could automate a good portion of cloud cost management, providing greater visibility into pre- and post-deployment costs.
Addressing data and transaction architectures is equally important. Potential encryption issues that could arise in a migration may increase the need to weigh security and performance requirements. Application instabilities should be addressed prior to migration, which may require modularizing applications. And preparing applications for the migration may involve creating application programming interfaces, as one example.
Finally, it's important to take advantage of a cloud platform’s inherent capabilities from Day One. In the past, software developers wrote applications knowing exactly which systems they would touch. With the cloud, rather than having applications sit atop the infrastructure, they are designed to communicate through the cloud platform and be routed to perform different tasks automatically.
For example, self-healing and auto-scaling capabilities help improve performance and efficiency by eliminating the need for people to monitor screens for signals to add memory or take other actions. The application tells the platform what’s going on, and the platform addresses the situation automatically using defined policies. Or, in the case of a sudden spike in processing demand for needs such as end-of-day processing, the platform can spawn additional application instances without human intervention.
If an application being migrated to the cloud is unable to take advantage of these and other built-in cloud capabilities, the application and the process it supports may not perform to their potential.
Cloud deployment: No time for blind faith
Migrating federal applications and data to the cloud carries no guarantee of better performance, increased efficiency and stronger security. Instead, capturing the cloud’s value can be less challenging if these and other best practices are incorporated:
- Deliberate planning
- Developing a portfolio of applications based on readiness
- Establishing cloud architecture and services
- Executing the migration plan
With such heavy emphasis on planning and preparation, this approach suggests that agency and department leaders must be engaged in championing cloud’s applications and benefits before and after they are up and running.
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