Aug 16 2016

IT Leaders Stress Importance of Network Assessments Ahead of Cloud Migrations

Before moving to the cloud, agency IT leaders say that network assessments are needed to ensure a smooth transition.

The federal government is pushing for agencies to adopt cloud services. However, before they make the switch, agencies should conduct a thorough network assessment to ensure an efficient migration, according to agency IT leaders.

For more than five years, the federal government has been pursuing a formal “Cloud First” policy that requires agencies to default to using a cloud-based technology if they can find a secure, reliable and cost-effective solution. Agencies have been moving email and enterprise office applications to the cloud, as well as agency-specific apps.

Yet all the cost savings, scalability, enhanced storage and security benefits that come with moving to the cloud can be undone if there are glitches and hitches in an agency’s network environment. That’s why conducting an assessment of a migration is so crucial.

The Benefits of an Assessment

Transportation Department CIO Richard McKinney said during an Aug. 4 FedScoop webinar that his agency is now “virtually done” with a migration of its mail and messaging apps to Microsoft’s Office 365, which involved about 400 terabytes of mail and thousands of users.

According to FedScoop, McKinney pronounced the migration a “very, very successful rollout.”

Yet that move would not have been nearly as successful without a network assessment. The Transportation Department worked with an unnamed partner to assess its network, an ongoing process that began early in 2016.

DOT’s network was a hodgepodge of 10 different instances that sprang up over the last 20 years, which made the migration especially complex, McKinney said, according to Federal News Radio. DOT’s partner mapped network traffic, connections and devices; determined patches that were needed; and highlighted potential problems before they emerged. “Where are the bottlenecks?” McKinney asked. “Where are we going to have potential problems with end users out in the field if we move the service to the cloud?”

Undertaking an assessment ahead of the migration helped the agency think about how to plan its network for the future and avoid problems.

“We wanted to begin with the end in mind,” he said, according to Federal News Radio. “As we modernize, as we take more of an enterprise approach, we’re trying to assess what those mission needs are, and how that’s going to change in the coming years so we can design a network that not only meets our needs today, but meets our needs for the foreseeable future.”

McKinney said his team has seen concrete benefits by creating an “as-is blueprint” of the network, according to FedScoop, adding that the DOT and its partner installed software to analyze the whole network, including device location and health.

“It’s yielded some tremendous results for us, helped us have a much better understanding of our network and a much better understanding of our traffic,” McKinney said, according to FedScoop. “We think we’re going to be making a bunch of changes to the routes that the offices take, and we’re going to change some of the way we do our relationship with the carriers.”

Since most of the Transportation Department’s 65,000 employees work outside of Washington, the move to the cloud needed to proceed without disrupting operations for workers out in the field. “If the user experience wasn’t good, that was going to rain on the whole cloud parade,” making it harder to sell further migrations, he added.

The Drawbacks of a Lack of Insight

Tony Summerlin, senior advisor to the CIO at the Federal Communications Commission, said on the webinar that, if he could do the process over again, he would have addressed the agency’s network infrastructure ahead of a cloud migration.

As we moved our data centers, one of the things I severely underestimated was the need for a totally redesigned network approach,” he said, according to Federal News Radio. “Because everything started living in the network, as opposed to living in our data center, and so all the tools and references you were used to using with a network that you fully controlled … both ends of that network all of a sudden disappeared.”

After the migration the FCC found out that its bandwidth was inefficient, especially in terms of connecting to the wired backbone of the internet, and bandwidth issues negatively impacted the user experience.

“So the network architecture needed to be flexible,” Summerlin said. “And services needed to be independent of any location.”

Summerlin added that networks are no longer tactical, but are instead highly strategic resources for agencies. “Networks are where the business fails or runs,” he said.

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