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Common Pitfalls to Cloud Migration — and How to Avoid Them

GovLoop’s hosting its Fifth Annual Government Innovators Virtual Summit, an all-day, virtual event with five different online trainings, networking opportunities and resources to help government do their job better — and we’re recapping each session for you. Head here to read write-ups from the other trainings.

Government agencies have been tangling with cloud computing since it emerged with great buzz more than a half-decade ago; in the time since, a number of challenges and pitfalls to cloud adoption have consistently appeared across government agencies.

But the fact is that the majority of these challenges are actually not with the core technologies that enable cloud computing. Instead, cloud computing tends to expose chinks in datacenter infrastructure and government IT policies that together undermine core agency cloud objectives.

In GovLoop’s Virtual Summit online training about common cloud pitfalls, we discussed the three particular obstacles to cloud adoption and how to take the appropriate steps to address or avoid these pitfalls with your own agency’s cloud. 

Rob Washburn, Senior Cloud Architect, Red Hat Professional Services, North America Public Sector, went through what he saw as the main cloud computing challenges — and his tips for avoiding each. 

Common Pitfall #1 – Underestimating the required investment

Agencies are getting better at this today, Washburn said, but government still struggles with misconceptions about what cloud computing really entails. “Cloud computing is not a one-and-done project and going into it with that expectation that it’s something you can get out of the way in a few months is one of the biggest disservices you can do yourself,” he said. It’s a complex integration and hooked into almost every aspect of a data center, and after your initial deployment you should expect to have a long-term iteration, and truly understand that cloud is a long-term investment. 

Avoiding this pitfall: First, Washburn said, you must establish your agency’s IT footprint as what it looks like “now” vs what it will look like in the future, or the “ideal”footprint, for cloud computing. This involves creating a 12+ month cloud integration roadmap; pulling input from all senior stakeholders; focusing on coordinated parallel execution; and maintaining compatibility. Additionally, focusing on “bite-sized” milestones for cloud project plans can ensure success. 

Common Pitfall #2 – Outmoded IT practices pose a barrier to cloud

Going to the cloud is wonderful for many reasons — but it often reveals chinks in legacy IT practices, Washburn said. Agency IT policies that are outdated can bottleneck cloud adoption. Spinning up a server may take 30 minutes to provision, but the paperwork can take a week. And cloud elastic provisioning challenges legacy IT policy.

Avoiding this pitfall: Clearing this hurdle starts with focusing on improving the scalability and consistency of your datacenter ops, Washburn explained. This involves: 

• Focusing on configuration management and revision control

• Being willing to reexamine and reform IT lifecycle management and budget policies

• Using smoke testing teams to prove out emerging technology

• Maintaining a persistent cloud integration testbed

• Infrastructure as code as a top priority 

Common Pitfall #3 – Datacenter infrastructure is not ready for cloud 

Cloud computing, especially a self-service provisioning model, put significant stress on datacenter, Washburn pointed out. “The capacity can disappear and you end up in situations where you have 100 virtual machines going out in one day and that is when the backend datacenter and server capacity and issues like that start to get bogged down,” he explained. An overly complex cloud automation ad orchestration can also cause problems. 

Avoiding this pitfall: “Don’t be so quick to blame your cloud when you hit snags!” Washburn said. “Many problems sit below the cloud self-service and management layer.” According to Washburn, to avoid this cloud pitfall, you need to be willing to explore alternative solutions and technologies; focus on the long-term scalability of your cloud solution; and create an environment where you can hold regular blameless postmortems when things (inevitably) go wrong.

Finally, Washburn ended his presentation with practical tips on Dos and Don’ts for building your agency’s cloud:

DO: Reach out to vendor pre-sales or consulting architects for cloud scoping

DON’T: Assume a vendor will do 100% of the work to build your cloud; everyone needs to be involved!

DO: Expect vendor consulting to engineer each “known working configuration” of your agency’s cloud

DON’T: Let operational knowledge transfer for your cloud fall by the wayside

DO: Prioritize configuration management ahead of cloud self-service 

DON’T: Allow technical or procedural challenges to roadblock your cloud 

DO: Anticipate infrastructure + capacity challenges and be ready to improvise 

DON’T: Blame your cloud portal during an outage, even though your users will 

DO: Focus on incremental cloud milestones while keeping the lights on 

DON’T: Assume your existing IT staff can drop day-to-day deliverables and hammer out a perfect agency “cloud physique” 

With this knowledge in hand of common pitfalls and how you can avoid them, you can ensure that your journey to the cloud is a smooth and successful one.

You can see the presentation slides here, and make sure to head over to our Virtual Summit to meet public servants and innovators from across the country!

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