Mar 03 2014

Answered: 5 Questions About Federal Agencies, Vendors and the Cloud

EMC’s Kyle Keller offers insight into the challenges of migrating to the cloud.

Federal agencies are slowly moving to the cloud with the help of approved vendors. EMC is one of those partners, and with thought leaders like Kyle Keller on the team, it’s easy to see why many agencies have chosen to partner with the company.

Keller, the cloud business director for EMC Federal, has more than 17 years of experience in enterprise architecture and has a unique perspective on the federal IT landscape. FedTech caught up with him to learn more about federal agencies’ evolving relationship with the cloud.

FEDTECH: What are the biggest challenges to cloud migration?

Keller: Most in the industry agree that leveraging the cloud can deliver significant budget savings and deliver true efficiencies. From my perspective, this is true when done well. Usually, the first step is to have an understanding of the applications:

  • What are the interoperability requirements of other mission applications? Rarely, if ever, is an application a single stand-alone offering. Moving one tier of an application to the cloud may have adverse effects on performance or security considerations — does moving a single tier of the application now lead to a change in operational capabilities? New skills to be learned? New toolsets? Changing the consumption model should not lead to an increase in operations and maintenance costs to the agency.
  • What is the mission relevance, and what are the uptime requirements of the application? Can the provider of choice deliver the “9”s required for the application and the mission (i.e., 99.99, or 99.999, or even 99.9999)?
  • What does the workload look like, and, more specifically, what is the overall utilization trend? Would the workload marry up well to a consumption-based model, where we are paying based on consumption?
  • One of the biggest challenges is actually building and defining the business case. Given a specific workload and a specific mission requirement, would it make sense to move the application to a cloud provider? If the business case says no, the answer is clear. Or maybe, instead of saying no to cloud, consider deploying to a private cloud. Unfortunately, at times, a cloud migration is completed under the assumption of cost savings, yet sometimes that is not the case, as the agency may not have a baseline understanding of what it costs them to deliver it today.

Another challenge is having an exit strategy. While nearly all the focus of leveraging cloud is focused on how to start using it, very little consideration is given to having an exit strategy. What if the level of service experienced is not what is defined in availability agreements or (if present) service level agreements? How could we bring an application back to the mission and ensure the least disruption possible? For all of the consideration for how to leverage cloud, closer consideration should review the possibility of exit.

Another consideration is the business process and the overall people and process changes. While cloud is enabling from an efficiency perspective, there is a realignment needed to fully embrace the newer consumption models, and technology tends to be the easiest piece. We are literally talking about the largest transformation effort the IT industry has ever seen.

FEDTECH: What short-term goals should agencies be targeting?

Keller: Establish a virtualization first policy. While this sounds simple and trivial, there is not a path from physical to cloud. The journey to cloud is an evolution, and agencies have tremendous efficiencies to be gained today by virtualizing everything in the data center.

Rationalize applications, and truly understand the mission-critical metrics that surround the mission applications. This application-rationalization process will feed and support the efforts to build the business-case and cost-model considerations.

Consider writing a cloud taxonomy document specific to the agency mission. What does private cloud mean? Is that 100 percent on-premises deployment? What does hybrid mean? So often when I talk with agencies, everyone talks to cloud from their perspective. To some, it is a physical destination to run a workload; to others it’s a consumption model; to others it’s a requirement to meet the task at hand. Having a common definition will ensure those discussing will have a common lens and ensure there is only one cloud conversation taking place at the same time.

FEDTECH: What can government learn from the private sector, in terms of cloud?

Keller: Quite simply, one size does not fit all. What we see the private sector deploying is a cloud-of-clouds model — leveraging the proper cloud provider or deployment model (private, public, hybrid, or community) based on the workload being serviced. These customers are factoring in financial, functional and security requirements as they determine the right cloud for the right workload — all while doing so with a single orchestration tool/engine.

FEDTECH: What are your thoughts on cloud brokers?

Keller: I see brokers in two forms: One is a technology that allows orchestration of divergent cloud resources with a single management framework; the second is in a more traditional sense of the term “broker,” whereby a third party is assisting agencies and works to simplify the consumption process. The cloud brokerage model is developing, and there are some interesting conversations taking place. For example, let’s say today I am a cloud service provider (CSP) — can I also function as a cloud services broker? Some say yes, some say maybe — some are waiting to see what shakes out.

Agencies should be considering the same questions when evaluating a broker. If a broker is utilized, do they provide the service-level agreements (SLAs) to the end customer, or does the underlying CSP provide the SLA? Is the broker simply an acquisition in between?

FEDTECH: How can the cloud support other federal initiatives, such as BYOD and telework?

Keller: A federal agency’s cloud strategy should be easily extensible to fully support telework and BYOD through solutions like Desktop as a Service (DaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS). This can be fully supported in the same common orchestration engine delivering core IT cloud services. A true cloud strategy does not just consist of the core “data center” applications and infrastructure services, but is a fully comprehensive strategy, which also incorporates the edge and end-user computing models.

Follow Keller on Twitter (@latency) and check out his posts on the EMC Public Sector blog.