Like a Paris fashion boutique, each year the technology industry seems to latch onto a new trend. In 2014, it was virtualization and mobility. Last year, it was cloud migration and the role of the federal CIO in network modernization.
This year, hybrid IT is the new black, at least according to the SolarWinds 2016 Public Sector IT Trends Report. In surveying 116 public sector IT professionals, we found that agencies are actively moving much of their infrastructure to the cloud, while still keeping a significant number of applications in-house. They want the many benefits of the cloud (cost efficiency, agility) without the perceived drawbacks (security, compliance).
Perceptions in general have evolved since our 2015 report. Back then, 17 percent of respondents said that new technologies were “extremely important” for their agencies’ long-term successes; in 2016, that number jumped to 26 percent. Conversely, in 2015 45 percent of survey respondents cited “lack of skills needed to implement/manage” new technologies as a primary barrier to cloud adoption; this year, only 30 percent of respondents cited that as a problem, indicating that cloud skillsets may have improved.
In-line with these trends, an astounding 41 percent of respondents in this year’s survey believe that 50% or more of their organizations’ total IT infrastructure will be in the cloud within the next three to five years. This supports the evidence that since the U.S. introduced the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy in 2011, there’s been an unquestionable shift toward cloud services within government IT. We even saw evidence of that way back in 2014, when that year’s IT Trends Report indicated that more than 21 percent of public sector IT professionals felt that cloud computing was the most important technology for their agencies to remain competitive.
But while today cloud migration is a given, there remain growing concerns over security and compliance. Agencies love the idea of gaining agility and greater cost efficiencies, but some data is simply too proprietary to trust in the hands of an offsite hosted services provider, even one that is FedRAMP compliant. This has led many organizations to hedge their bets on which applications and how much data they wish to migrate. As such, many agency IT administrators have made the conscious decision to keep at least portions of their infrastructures on-premises. According to our research, it’s very likely that these portions will never be migrated to the cloud.
Thus, some applications are hosted, while others continue to be maintained within the agencies themselves, creating a hybrid IT environment that can present management challenges. When an agency has applications existing in multiple places, it creates a visibility gap that makes it difficult for federal IT professionals to completely understand what’s happening with those applications. A blind spot is created between applications hosted offsite and those maintained in-house. Administrators are generally only able to monitor internally or externally. As a result, they can’t tell what’s happening with their applications as data passes from one location to another.
That’s a problem in a world where applications are the government’s lifeblood, and where administrators have invested a lot of time and resources into getting a comprehensive picture of application performance. For them, it’s imperative that they implement solutions and strategies that allow them to map hybrid IT paths from source to destination. This can involve “spoofing” application traffic in order to get a better picture of how on-site and hosted applications are working together. Then, they can deploy security and event management tools to monitor what’s going on with the data as it passes through the hybrid infrastructure.
In fact, in our 2016 survey, we found that monitoring and management tools and metrics are in high demand in today’s IT environment. Forty-eight percent of our respondents recognized this combination as critically important to managing a hybrid IT infrastructure. According to them, it’s the most important skillset they need to develop at this point in time.
Next year, when we do our updated report, we’ll probably see different results, but I’m willing to bet that cloud migration will still be at the top of public sector IT managers’ to-do lists. Like polo shirts and cashmere sweaters, that’s something that won’t be going out of style anytime soon.