Aug 18 2017

FDA Speeds Up Cloud Deployments with New Migration Approach

Almost two years into its migration to the cloud, the Food and Drug Administration is finding ways to accelerate the switch.

The Food and Drug Administration wants to make it easier to determine which applications to move to the cloud to spur migrations.

The agency recently rolled out a cloud advisory board to help make those kinds of decisions, according to CIO Todd Simpson. The shift to the cloud is part of the FDA’s broader microservices strategy to more easily build and deploy apps.

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Migrating Legacy Apps to the Cloud

The FDA started migrating applications and services into the cloud nearly two years ago. Today, 10 percent of the FDA’s apps are in the cloud and most new development takes place there, GCN notes.

Simpson tells GCN that the FDA has migrated its ServiceNow tool, which agency employees use for service requests and help-desk ticketing, as well as its email system. The agency is also halfway through a strategic plan to redesign its technology support systems.

“Cloud is a tool in the toolbox, and I use it to take care of business models, not just to be trendy,” Simpson tells GCN. Referring to the advisory board, he says, “I have set up a guidance board to determine what should be in the cloud or hybrid environments, and we have put a lot of effort into creating a project management office.”

The FDA has 10 federated centers, and a key challenge for Simpson is getting them to work together to achieve economies of scale. Each center has its own budget and ability to make decisions.

The approach Simpson takes to get the centers to row together and innovate on IT is the concept of “elasticity,” which involves giving senior IT leaders data on how high-performance computing (HPC) and the cloud can improve their workflows, GCN reports.

“You just need to show them the data and they will make the right decisions,” Simpson says. “We could decide at the end of the day to have three HPC environments and we would be able to manage it.”

New Cloud Advisory Board Yields Benefits

One of the FDA’s centers recently worked on an infant formula tracking database, and used the cloud to do so, Simpson tells Federal News Radio. The project went through the agency’s processes for intake, requirements analysis and alternative analysis. The FDA then used the Enterprise Portfolio Lifecycle Management methodology that the Department of Health and Human Services uses. That approach is designed to enhance IT governance "through rigorous application of sound investment and project management principles and industry’s best practices."

“So we have these toll gates for next steps and when we got to the alternative analysis stage that’s where we had to invoke the cloud advisory board,” Simpson says. “They review all the different options and worked with the customer.”

The board highlighted an existing vendor working with the FDA that could deliver agile development on a Software as a Service (SaaS) cloud platform, Federal News Radio reports. The FDA center decided to use that vendor and was able to release the new database in just nine months.

“That’s a phenomenal accomplishment,” Simpson says. “That’s the power of this process especially when you couple it with a cloud service provider whose job it is to do agile development within this microservices framework,” he says. “The cloud services provider is part of our overall microservices strategy.”

Over the past few years, the agency has been working on a microservices framework. “Within a microservices architecture, organizations build apps that are independently deployable, easy to replace, often times organized around specific capabilities, can be implemented using different programming languages and build using automated processes,” Federal News Radio notes.

As the FDA has shifted to the cloud, it also has adopted a cloud broker approach and blanket purchase agreements to more easily buy SaaS, Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service offerings.

“We are moving toward this agile development methodology. We want to be able to actively engage our customers when we are doing development so we can get to production quicker,” Simpson tells Federal News Radio. “When you couple that agile methodology with a microservices framework, which is a toolbox of options to develop software to meet specific requirements.”

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