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Yet despite the successful scramble to roll out emergency solutions during a pandemic, the federal government still has a long way to go to attain the promises of a modern environment. Now, agencies are recalibrating transformation strategies for the long haul, which often includes the transition to an efficient, agile, and secure multicloud strategy and implementation.

During a recent episode of the Public Sector Tech Talk series, Hybrid Cloud: Challenges and Considerations for a Successful Transition, I sat down with two IT experts and we discussed steps agencies can take to enhance their hybrid cloud infrastructures and the lifecycles of data residing on their networks. Mark D'Alessandro, Dell's senior director of data center sales, federal sector, and Sean Hicks, WWT's hybrid cloud practice lead, discussed the challenges and considerations of agencies moving to a hybrid cloud environment.

A move to hybrid

Hybrid cloud is gaining popularity in the public sector alongside the growing complexity of agencies' IT environments, data management requirements, business demands and security protocols. Agencies are becoming more open to hybrid cloud's mixed computing, storage and services environments, which are distributed and orchestrated across on-premises infrastructure, private cloud services and public cloud.

Evolution of the current mindset started with the Cloud First initiative and the first wave of cloud migrations. Early adopters, often tired of slow-moving internal IT departments were able to quickly tap public clouds for agility and capabilities unmatched in the traditional on-premise data center. Public cloud providers responded with scalable, on-demand capabilities and delivery of agile, innovative microservices. However, unexpected consequences arose including skyrocketing costs, poor security practices, network latency and issues with data access. Over time, the capabilities in the data center evolved, providing more agile capabilities. The shift to Cloud Smart in recent years broadened the embrace of disruptive, transformative and agile IT by traditional data center infrastructure providers and IT departments alongside public cloud providers.

These technologies can coexist in new on-premise as a service models in which users only pay for services they use, whether in data centers or clouds. Of course, no one in the public sector had experience managing hybrid clouds or dealing with issues such as portability of applications across a hybrid system, consistency of the user experience, security concerns or the challenge of legacy apps that don't perform well in a public cloud.

"We have all these needs and requirements we need to take into consideration whenever we're making decisions about where mission critical applications and data are going to land," Hicks said. "Using multiple public clouds and attaching those to legacy infrastructure … just made for a more complex world."

The way ahead

High-functioning enterprises typically are supported by people, processes and technology. When systems undergo change, the most challenging support to reposition is almost always people.

"The cultural part is a big problem," D'Alessandro said. "How do we get people from not having their fiefdoms? We've got to get them past that. Some of it is leadership."

Shifting from a legacy environment to hybrid cloud can be difficult for a worker who's spent the last several years focused on keeping servers up and running or making sure that there's enough room on the storage array.

"How do you convince them to start focusing on things like proper capacity planning and security and automation orchestration and automated testing and operations?" Hicks asked. "To reach a true cloud operating model, those are the things we want people focused on."

To get there, agencies must consider embracing automation and orchestration to handle tasks that in the past were the responsibility of IT workers.

"What if we could spend that time modernizing our applications, taking care of security concerns, figuring out a path forward for data assurance and cloud governance?" Hicks asked. "Where would we be as an organization if we could refocus our efforts away from traditional IT tasks and on these other things that will make us operate faster and lead to better experiences for our customers?"

Looking at the IT horizon, D'Alessandro said it's clear that adopting tools to promote automation is the way to go. "When you think about where the world is going with IoT and 5G and other things, it becomes imperative that you have automation and orchestration."

There is no "one size fits all" approach to cloud computing, each agency has its own infrastructure, requirements and mission. This is why a hybrid approach often makes the most sense, providing agencies the flexibility to store data and applications in a private or public environment. The challenge is how to leverage these different platforms to provide the operational efficiencies and security offered by the cloud. 

For more information on how to effectively transition to a hybrid cloud environment, access the on-demand version of our Public Sector Tech TalkHybrid Cloud: Challenges and Considerations for a Successful Transition, as we dive into more specifics and provide more detailed recommendations.

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