Jun 15 2017

Local Government Agencies & The Cloud: Moving to IaaS

Cloud computing’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service model holds several benefits for local agencies, as long as they first weigh the risks.

The future of state and local government infrastructure is in the cloud, and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is emerging as a way to cut costs and streamline IT functions across government.

Alongside mandates pushing local agencies to employ cloud solutions, a recent International Data Corp. survey tapped improved manageability, less maintenance and lower cost of service as a few of the top reasons why agencies across the country are embracing cloud infrastructures.

But cloud services are not just about how to operate IT, but also about how to provide additional capability to support the information and services required for successful mission outcomes, says Adelaide O’Brien, research director for government digital transformation strategies at IDC Government.

Cloud is a critical enabler of digital transformation and must be accompanied by supportive leadership and agile and streamlined processes focused on agency constituents that allow secure multichannel access to information, services and benefits,” O’Brien says.

In this way, innovative states such as Texas, Indiana and Michigan are seeing success in taking cloud to the next level.

As many agencies begin to adopt cloud for multiple reasons, the IaaS model is becoming a popular way for government IT managers to get out of the hardware business. The service allows them to outsource procurement, upgrades and maintenance for servers, storage and network equipment, freeing up IT teams for other projects.

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The Benefits of Cloud Computing

Ever wish your agency could focus more on services than on infrastructure? O’Brien notes that several government agencies are finding that cloud provides them the ability to do just this by repurposing their time to support the customers of their services.

Infrastructure cost savings also emerge as government cloud buyers choose IaaS for “a range of integrated physical and virtual infrastructure systems with preintegrated, modular units of compute, storage and networking that allow IT to add blocks of physical resources in an efficient, repeatable and scalable fashion,” O’Brien notes.

Moreover, many agencies have been able to realize significant personnel savings as well by eliminating often expensive third-shift IT support, which is provided by the cloud vendor.

“Many agencies are looking for vendors that can use their domain knowledge, technology expertise and intellectual property to reduce cost and increase efficiency from day one,” she says.

Think funding could be a problem? O’Brien notes that some government executives are able to obtain backing for their cloud systems based on the understanding that it will provide more secure transactions via identity and access management, and it will also be supported by vendors with cybersecurity expertise.

The Cybersecurity Concerns for IaaS Cloud Adoption

The decision to embrace cloud is a risk-based management decision,” says O’Brien.

This is because while sharing information through cloud computing can liberate data and greatly enhance situational awareness, leading to better decision-making that can permeate all levels of government, issues around privacy, data veracity and ownership still exist.

So how can an agency minimize risk? By conducting thorough and exhaustive due diligence in selecting cloud service providers.

“This can be a timely and expensive process for agencies to undergo. However … by selecting a vendor that meets the proper certifications, state and local government organizations can forego the security assessment process for a multitude of known security controls, select a certified cloud service for their applications and workloads, and more confidently deploy systems into the certified environment,” O’Brien says.

What to Consider When Preparing for a Cloud Migration

For any legacy modernization and data center consolidation project, an agency should be sure it has a comprehensive roadmap. IT managers should also be sure to assess mission needs, technology readiness and staff skills, says O’Brien.

“Transition plans should include the level of effort required to move to cloud, readiness of staff, capability and security certifications of vendors, as well as uses and deployments of third-platform technologies, such as Big Data and analytics, mobility and social business,” O’Brien notes.

In creating that plan, O’Brien encourages agencies to ask potential IaaS vendors the following questions:

  1. Is the offering able to scale when needed through automatic scaling? Does the vendor provide load balancing to manage and handle an increasing number of servers across heterogeneous resources, including multiple servers, hypervisors and operating systems?
  2. Does the vendor offer value-added services including assessments and roadmap development, free trials and/or implementation of pilot programs, proof of concepts and testing, and application migration?
  3. Is pricing aligned with the government market direction on the range of licensing options, such as subscription pricing, enterprise licensing agreements and allowing concurrent users?
  4. Are contract conditions flexible? Do they include a minimum contract period, minimum number of users, upfront fixed fees, and compensation for breach of service-level agreements? 
  5. How does the vendor enter into and terminate the data contract?

Above all, when making the move to the cloud, it’s important to understand that the IT organization will change.

Cloud will require different skill sets, but standard services and platforms typically allow staff to retrain and specialize to support the new environment, allowing additional efficiencies with improved service levels,” says O’Brien.

So what can agencies do to manage this fundamental IT shift?

Build skills and knowledge in cloud and cloud service management. And in building these skills, O’Brien encourages organizations to use early wins to demonstrate potential and justify budget allocations.

“Identify cloud champions that not only promote cloud (with measured performance reports) but also gather feedback on the transition and build a bridge between IT and business, expand projects, define architectural standards and risk requirements, and budget for cloud investments,” she says.

Denis Isakov/Thinkstock

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