Intel Community Developments

What federal agencies need to know before moving to the cloud

Defense and intelligence agencies have begun moving many of their long-standing applications to the cloud to increase efficiency and improve the speed of operations.

But doing so is a complex change for agencies who regularly handle sensitive data and often work with a legacy system with massive infrastructure.

In the intelligence community, agencies are moving through a massive IT modernization effort, known colloquially as ICITE. One element of that modernization requires greater use of the commercial cloud, which can provide elastic, on-demand utility data and storage services.

To help make this transition easier, Noblis ESI, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the non-profit strategy organization Noblis, has compiled a guide to help federal organizations through the move. Noblis works with federal clients on solving technical problems.

“The concept of moving a portfolio to the cloud sounds wonderful to start out,” said Chuck Muggleworth, director of national ground infrastructure at Noblis ESI. “It provides a scalable infrastructure upon which one can build.”

Notably, the cloud allows for computing resources to help go from idea to prototype to development to operation. This is critical, especially for the defense and intelligence community, as threats continue to grow. “Our intelligence and defense communities need to keep up, not just with the commercial market, but with our adversaries,” Muggleworth said. “The threat is developing as fast as the commercial market.”

But moving to the cloud is not always a seamless activity. Several IT experts have noted that an organization’s migration to the cloud is almost always their first migration to the cloud, leaving room for improvement.

“The cloud has incredible capabilities. It’s not always the right answer,” Muggleworth said. “Understanding the mission need and choosing which technologies to integrate is more important. It has to be the right fit.”

In making the move to the cloud, agency IT leaders need to consider the business-side of the transition, which parts of the enterprise will move to the cloud, and which cloud (a public, private or hybrid cloud) those apps and portfolio could be housed on.

“That’s a much more interesting or challenging question than just wave our hands and say, ‘we’re going to the cloud,’” Muggleworth said.

IT leaders need to concentrate on security and application suitability, which includes the discussion of when, if and how they can migrate? Should they use docker containers? How processor intensive are the applications?

Think of a senior leader who wants to watch full-motion video of an area in the field. As more and more viewers come online, that scalability becomes crucial.

Muggleworth said the lessons learned can be particularly helpful if IT professionals read and absorb them before they start a transition, rather than once the process has already begun. Without following those, IT leaders risk running into classic project management problems. Among his tips:

- Organize the IT team and agency for success from the start.

- Realize the best solution may not use all the available tools out there. “It’s not like Pokémon,” he joked. “You don’t have to catch them all.”

- Don’t compete with other federal agencies. “We’re all on the same team,” he said.

- Finally, if a solution seems too hard or too expensive, it probably is.

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