Six Key Factors for Small Agencies Moving to the Cloud

Smaller agencies contemplating or engaged in migrating systems to the cloud have different concerns than larger agencies do. Limited IT resources, already heavily loaded with managing current systems and infrastructure are matched by limited budgets. At the same time, smaller agency IT leaders know that the cloud is the future; not just mandated by OPM guidance, but clearly a set of solutions that offers greater flexibility, reduced cost (ideally), and lowered risk overall.

Six key factors loom large for smaller agencies embarking on a migration to the cloud:

1. Minimizing initial and long-term costs

Approaching a cloud migration without a clear strategy that is rooted in understanding of the differences and challenges inherent in the cloud can lead to expensive detours and failed projects. Simply lifting and shifting existing systems can end up costing more than current data center hosting, while gaining little in the way of improved performance or reduction in support requirements.

Informed planning for migration, based on a solid understanding of the advantages and risks of running systems in the cloud, will ensure that the ROI is real and understood by all stakeholders. Initial costs can be minimized by evaluating current system architectures before beginning migrations to highlight and mitigate inefficiencies and possibly deferring migration of a particular system until it can be redesigned. Profiling current systems and understanding how cloud services are billed can avoid excessive costs over time when services are not configured optimally.

2. Reducing staffing needs

A large advantage of cloud infrastructure for smaller agencies is the ability to reduce IT staffing needs. With cloud providers managing many of the responsibilities of system and network administrators as well as teams responsible for physical hardware and network infrastructure, IT teams can be focused on essential needs like the design and management of systems software and applications, security, and data management.

Cloud infrastructure is “just there” as cloud provider teams are dedicated to maintaining the virtual infrastructure and ensuring it is secure, reliable, and available. The economies of scale gained from that model directly benefit agency IT staffing budgets.

3. Migrating incrementally

The thought of migrating all of an agency’s systems to the cloud can be daunting. Even when systems can be split cleanly along logical lines, migrating a single system can still entail moving a lot of infrastructure along with it. Storage arrays and databases are typically shared resources across systems. Systems frequently share data or pass it to other systems though APIs or ETL jobs. Licenses may be shared across discrete systems.

One solution to this problem is the ability to implement hybrid systems that run partially in the cloud and partially in agency data centers. Secure, high speed data connections can be maintained between cloud and on-premises systems, with components deployed to the cloud incrementally over time without major disruptions to larger or affiliated systems. If an agency is beginning a redesign of a system, it makes a lot of sense to engineer it for the cloud at the same time. Another advantage of the hybrid approach is the ability to meet data residency requirements, maintaining data on premises for policy reasons for instance.

4. Ensuring security and lowering risk

Three power cords plugged into a model cloud.

Major cloud providers offer FedRAMP regions, reserved for US Government clients. Systems deployed in these regions inherit substantial infrastructure controls, making FISMA compliance easier to achieve and maintain. Cloud best practices should leverage the security and network tools provided by the cloud provider.

Security tools and frameworks available in the cloud are extensive, easily deployed, and can be fully integrated into policies and security frameworks developed and maintained in the cloud as part of the overall deployed environments. From virtual firewalls and subnets to fine grained control of privileges, modern cloud providers offer configurable, enforceable security frameworks that are likely to exceed anything available in small agency environments and data centers.

5. Leveraging cloud native architecture

As the maturity of your agency experience increases over time, the opportunity to leverage the advantages of a cloud native architecture presents itself. System and application software that was developed for legacy data centers can be refactored and redesigned incrementally to make use of technologies like serverless computing, abstraction of container management, or infrastructure as code.

Part of the power of the cloud model is the ability to abstract aspects of technologies in a cost-effective way made possible by the broad sharing of resources. AWS Fargate, for example, allows Docker containers to be deployed and managed easily, without the complexity inherent in managing clusters from the ground up. AWS Lambda abstract the server away entirely, allowing code to be deployed as functions that respond to external events without reference to physical or virtual servers.

6. Engaging a reliable partner

Organizational culture matters as smaller agencies move to the cloud. Partnering with companies that understand your perspective, your resources, and your budget can make the difference between a successful cloud migration and an unsatisfactory one.

TCG has helped smaller agencies (and parts of some larger ones) successfully develop and deploy critical systems to the cloud for over xx years. We understand smaller agencies and the unique demands on their IT teams and budgets as they leverage limited resources to achieve their missions.

More on this topic:

Case Study | National Institutes of Health: Using DevOps Principles to Modernize and Migrate a Legacy System to the Cloud
Article | Managing Cloud Spending is a Challenge; Here Are Some Ways Agencies Can Improve