Not All Clouds Are Created Equal

Maybe your agency adopted cloud quickly — as soon as it became available — or maybe you cautiously watched from the sidelines.

Regardless of which camp you align with, chances are you might have experienced cloud remorse firsthand or have heard from agencies that felt it. It wasn’t so much that cloud wasn’t the right option — there was a deeper issue at play.

In his book, “The ROI Story: A Guide for IT Leaders,” author Steve Kaplan explains that some enterprises make incorrect assumptions about overall cost due to the lower upfront capital expense of public cloud. Yet capital expense is merely one element of the larger equation, and IT decision-makers should do a sound financial analysis that accounts for all of the factors that add up to the true cost of an IT investment.

So where do agencies stand in terms of how they are deploying cloud? The hybrid cloud approach — or a combination of private, community or public cloud — was by far the most popular option. “We know that most agencies will continue to operate in what I would consider to be a hybrid environment,” Graves said. “So being able to seamlessly move between those environments requires that you understand the engineering that goes on between … clouds.”

Several agencies are operating email, collaboration and even some mission-critical systems in the cloud, but this is not the reality for all agencies.

The reason? They often don’t know where to begin or are apprehensive about the cloud, data security, access to data and more.

Hybrid cloud allows agencies to move to the cloud without abandoning the convenience of their preferred on-premise solutions.

The survey data is telling of the evolutionary journey of federal cloud adoption in many ways. It shows only 13% are using public cloud today. But many agencies started with public cloud — and for good reason. There were savings to be had, and a desire to spend less time managing infrastructure.

In reality, cloud doesn’t necessarily offload all responsibilities from your staff onto a cloud service provider. It is a shared responsibility that agencies must explain, document and understand upfront. We asked respondents how they would describe the level of involvement and time their team spends managing cloud infrastructure. Nearly 60% spend at least some of the time managing infrastructure. Of that, 15% said they spend most of their time tending to cloud infrastructure.

“The possibilities are there for appropriate workloads [in the public cloud] to save money,” Broome said. “It requires a lot of thoughtfulness, in terms of which workloads to take there. This idea that we can just pick up everything we’re running on-premise and take it to a public cloud and save all that infrastructure cost is misleading.”

Determining what goes to the cloud and what stays on-premise is a balancing act that requires careful consideration for the demands of each workload, how sensitive it is, what level of agility is required, associated costs and more.

Perhaps you cautiously explored your options before testing out cloud on a limited basis. One Nutanix customer shared that the organization adopted cloud services quickly when they became available, but in a short time started to experience “cloud remorse.” In many cases, the organization was paying a premium over what its on-premise costs would have been. The lesson learned was that public cloud has big benefits, but you need to examine your applications and use cases carefully.

When asked about the reasons for running workloads in the public cloud, the top response was low to no maintenance of IT infrastructure (55%). Improved data accessibility and reduced costs were also a driving force behind public cloud adoption.

Broome explained that when you move to the public cloud, you are no longer maintaining infrastructure, but that doesn’t take agencies off the hook in other areas. “The same level of expertise is still needed to manage applications, configure the cloud-native versions of your network setup and secure and monitor workloads,” he said. “None of those costs really go away.”

Depending on the situation, there are cases where an incident arises that requires a response from the cloud service provider, the agency and/or other parties. There are also costs over time that investors in public cloud must consider.

“I think the cost associated with that move to public cloud is surprising and has put the brakes on some activities,” Broome said. “There will always be a demand for at least a minimal on-premise infrastructure, and I think hybrid cloud is the right architecture to support agencies going forward.”

There’s also the accountability piece and a need for direct control over some applications, and that’s part of the benefit that remaining on-premise can provide. More than 60% of respondents said that greater control when securing IT resources and a greater sense of visibility and management over IT resources were the top two benefits of having on-premise, agency-owned infrastructure.

“In a traditional on-premise network environment, an Agency would have control over the physical security measures used for protecting their systems,” according to the Homeland Security Department’s Cloud Security Guidance. “The cloud computing environment, however, limits the Agency’s ability to manage these controls as the CSP is often responsible for such actions.”

When you consider that every workload at your agency will not go to the cloud, for these and other reasons, the question becomes: What are your alternatives for getting cloudlike benefits without forfeiting control and visibility that comes from being on-premise?

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Counting the Cost: Reevaluating Your Agency’s Path to Cloud.” Download the full report here.

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