Oct 14 2021

VA Sees Shift to Cloud, Microservices on the Horizon

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to move hundreds of applications to the cloud and become more agile.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is looking to accelerate its cloud migration as well as its ability to be more technologically nimble through the deployment of microservices.

As GCN reports, the coronavirus pandemic spurred the VA to shift more of its apps to the cloud as demand for services surged. As offices shuttered early in the pandemic, the agency saw a 400 percent increase in remote users, and a massive increase in telehealth visits, from 25,000 per month to more than 40,000 per day, GCN notes.

“We actually pivoted from a legacy of Skype infrastructure capability to Microsoft Teams in the middle of the COVID pandemic,” Dave Catanoso, director of the VA’s Enterprise Cloud Solutions Office, said last month during Federal News Network’s Civilian Cloud Exchange, Federal News Network reports. “It was probably one of the largest migrations of anyone to Teams ever. We did it during the pandemic. And it’s worked great.”

The VA plans to shift hundreds of applications to the cloud over the next couple of years. Catanoso said his office has rolled out a new service called VA Platform One to help with those migration efforts.

VA Takes a Deliberate Approach to Modernization

The VA is a massive agency, Catanoso noted, with about 140 hospitals and 1,200 clinics and millions of veterans to care for. That scale means that the agency must be deliberate in how it moves to the cloud.

The Enterprise Cloud Solutions Office plans to migrate about a third of the VA’s 1,000 major applications by the end of fiscal year 2024.

“We’ve got almost 130 applications in the enterprise cloud today,” he said, not including Software as a Service apps from Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. The VA is working with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure for its enterprise cloud efforts. As it moves into more complex cloud migrations, the VA is going to need to undertake more planning and technical work to ensure the apps can take advantage of cloud-native services, Catanoso said, according to Federal News Network.

The VA is looking to adopt containerization and microservices. As Docker notes, a container is “a standard unit of software that packages up code and all its dependencies so the application runs quickly and reliably from one computing environment to another.”

VA Platform One “is designed to put in a standardized way for VA to containerize applications, and use microservices” from cloud providers, Catanoso said. “And really take advantage of all the cloud optimization capabilities out there. We have teams using the cloud at various levels, but we’re trying to make it more standardized.”

Microservices allow agencies agency to strip or break apart an app into smaller segments of software code that are responsible for specific functions. This approach gives agencies the flexibility to upgrade specific parts or functions of apps without having to update the entire app itself, making updates easier and more seamless.

Instead of starting migrations with small apps, the Enterprise Cloud Solutions Office has focused on moving mission-critical apps to the cloud.

“Because of a compelling business need at the very beginning of our existence in 2018, we took the exact opposite approach. We decided to move some of our biggest, most mission critical systems into the cloud immediately,” Catanoso said, Federal News Network reports. “Once we demonstrated they could move and be successful, then it was really a big confidence builder for everybody that wow, if these will run in the cloud, then there’s really not anything we couldn’t move if we need to.”

RELATED: A new federal cloud marketplace is in store for agencies.

Kiyoshi Tanno/Getty Images

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