Since everything always seems to come back to the cloud, it’s appropriate that as I wind down my GovLoop blogging duties I return to the topic of my first post on the rise of hybrid IT environments – with a little different spin.
As I wrote before, although the U.S. government has decreed a cloud-first approach, many federal IT professionals have been hesitant to move all of their workloads to the cloud and opted for a hybrid IT approach. According to a recent SolarWinds IT Trends Report, that hesitation primarily stems from concerns around the need to support legacy systems, security and compliance, and budget limitations.
The irony is that hybrid IT can actually benefit government agencies in each of these areas. Let’s take a look at how this can work.
Legacy system management
Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office issued a report calling for agencies to accelerate their movement away from legacy systems. The takeaway is that many of these systems are old, outdated, and simply not designed to be agile or flexible.
However, these systems can cost a lot to replace, so many agencies have kept them as part of their hybrid IT infrastructure, which isn’t really a bad thing. Hybrid IT gives agencies the flexibility to maintain some form of existing legacy infrastructure alongside cloud offerings, at least in the interim. When they’re ready, they can modernize and replace these systems as necessary and migrate them to the cloud incrementally. This approach can save them from incurring unnecessary costs and headaches.
Ensuring security and compliance
Security is another big concern, even though an argument can be made that cloud environments are now more secure than ever before. As hybrid IT environments become more common, IT professionals are becoming serious about monitoring them and are starting to incorporate network monitoring as a core function (call it “monitoring-as-a-discipline”).
Traditionally it has only been possible to monitor externally or internally, but today federal IT professionals have options that allow them to optimize visibility into both off- and on-premises resources. They can now map their hybrid IT paths from source to destination through solutions that effectively “spoof” application traffic back to their cloud service providers. Spoofing lets administrators map their entire networks and accurately monitor on-site and hosted applications to gauge how they interact with each other.
While compliance goes hand-in-hand with security, too often federal IT professionals equate compliance with software. As one of my colleagues has written, it’s important to remember that software in itself does not make an agency compliant. Compliance can only be achieved through strategic planning and execution, with software as a supporting piece. So while the cloud does raise legitimate concerns surrounding compliance, federal IT professionals must look beyond the actual technologies they’re using and consider their agency’s entire approach to adhering to federal regulations.
Budget management and cost reductions
Respondents to the aforementioned IT Trends Survey specified budget concerns as a primary barrier to hybrid IT adoption, but they also cited infrastructure cost reduction as the top hybrid IT benefit. This indicates that IT professionals are concerned how cloud migration may push their budgets but also acknowledge that the move will ultimately be financially beneficial.
Again, hybrid IT is a good approach for budget-conscious federal IT professionals. It lets them receive some of the cost benefits of the cloud – lower capital expenses and licensing fees, reduced maintenance costs, and more – while still maintaining control over some of their infrastructure. It’s not as cost-friendly as a complete move to the cloud, but it’s a nice compromise.
Federal IT professionals can take this one step further by continuing to hone their business skills. They’ll want to put themselves in positions to negotiate highly favorable contract terms with cloud providers, dissect budgets and workflows, and have a solid understanding of service-level agreements. These are not things that the typical IT manager may be accustomed to doing, but they’ll become increasingly important and valuable skills to possess.
Then again, not much is typical these days, and that makes federal IT administrators understandably nervous. The goal is to keep looking toward the future, and the promise of better security, infrastructure, and cost management. A hybrid IT infrastructure can help deliver that promise.