In 2009, Utah built out a private cloud as part of its data center consolidation and then connected the on-premises infrastructure to public cloud resources in a hybrid model. A decade later, the state is still finding success with the hybrid cloud, utilizing a more varied mix of resources than ever to optimize IT workloads.
“Obviously, the strength of the platforms and the diversity that’s available to us from providers has grown tremendously,” says David Fletcher, Utah’s CTO. “With the advancements that have been made in AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, we’re evolving to what would be more appropriately called multicloud, as opposed to just hybrid cloud.”
States are increasingly adopting a hybrid model to take advantage of the benefits of the cloud without abandoning data centers entirely. In doing so, they experiment with the right mix of resources on-premises and in the cloud, following the requirements of specific programs and applications to determine the appropriate source of computing power. Even local governments are discovering advantages in hybrid cloud.
“We see a trend toward states realizing the idea of maintaining and owning a data center for all IT needs doesn’t make as much sense as it used to,” says Amy Hille Glasscock, a senior policy analyst for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.
“There are times when it make sense to have things on-premises, and there are times when it makes more sense to have things in the public cloud,” adds Meredith Ward, also a senior policy analyst for NASCIO. “Several years ago, many states were adopting cloud-first policies. Now, they’re more often taking cloud-smart policies. It’s about going to the cloud when appropriate — looking at whether public cloud is best for each situation, or if on-premises is better.”
Utah Finds the Right Mix of Cloud and On-Premises
Spreading workloads across multiple public cloud providers presents some challenges around integration, says Michael Hussey, Utah’s CIO. But, Hussey adds, the state is often able to achieve better cost and performance by placing a particular workload in one cloud environment rather than another.
“There may be things that work really well in a particular environment,” Hussey says. “We decided we were going with Google products — Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs. But our state application for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control was written for Microsoft, so it made sense to transition it to Azure as opposed to rewriting it all and moving it to Google.”
Sometimes, Hussey explains, the demands of a particular application make the hybrid cloud model an obvious fit. He points to police body camera footage, which requires an on-premises component, although the cloud ultimately stores and processes the video data. “Just because of the sheer volume of the data we’re pushing to the cloud, we have staging servers on-premises,” Hussey says. “We take the police video, stage it locally and then the on-premises infrastructure pushes it to the cloud when there’s availability.”
A hybrid cloud approach also accommodates testing and development, Fletcher says. “In some cases, we may run production on-premises and then have a test environment in the cloud. That allows you to scale up and down more dynamically.”
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California Agency Gains Security in the Cloud
The California State Lands Commission began moving toward a hybrid cloud approach last year, when the agency’s parent organization consolidated its data centers. By moving some resources to Microsoft Azure, the commission was able to take advantage of some features that were not available on-premises, says David Swander, systems administrator for the organization.
“Our security stance went way up as a result of features set in the cloud,” Swander says. “We were able to implement formal authentication for every user and block certain regions from accessing resources. That’s one of the huge benefits of us moving out there.”
Like Utah, the California State Lands Commission is using a hybrid approach to facilitate the testing of applications. Swander says the public cloud component also provides more visibility into the costs of particular applications, and it simplifies ongoing maintenance and management of resources.
“Instead of running an SQL server, we can just run an SQL application,” Swander says. “We don’t have all the infrastructure and the training and maintenance that go along with operating an on-premises server.”
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Asheville, N.C., Moves to a Public Cloud Future
For some organizations, a hybrid cloud model represents an end goal. For others, the approach is merely a stopover on the path to full public cloud.
The city of Asheville, N.C., attracted attention in 2014 when it moved to a hybrid cloud. But since then, Asheville IT officials have pushed to migrate as many resources as possible to the public cloud. “We’re an organization with fewer than 2,000 people,” says Jonathan Feldman, CIO for the city. “There’s no reason for an organization of that size to have a data center.”
This outlook means that Asheville is on its way to locating nearly all of its workloads not just in the public cloud but with a single cloud provider.
“Hybrid increases the level of complexity, and complexity is the enemy of lots of things, including security and reliability,” says Eric Jackson, data and analytics program manager for the city. “At our size, we simply don’t have the staff to do both over the long term.”
Utah has taken the opposite approach, migrating resources to several different public cloud providers. As a result, the state has to pay more attention to integration issues and must train staffers to work with multiple platforms. “One of the most important things, before the environment gets too complex, is to try to implement management capabilities,” says Fletcher. “You also need to make sure you have a good inventory of all of the services and where you’re running them.”
Hussey advises that IT decision-makers must do their research to ensure that they’re selecting the best environment for each workload. “You want to make sure you have the right controls around the right environment,” he says. “You don’t want to go with the flavor of the day.”