Cloud, Like Any Other Technology, Is Meant to be Used Where It Counts

Seeing beyond the hype is essential to successfully moving valuable data and applications to the cloud. Failing to plan and develop a thorough strategy can lead to more problems without any of the perceived benefits.

by / September 13, 2017
Government Technology

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — There is a certain level of hype that comes with each new technology, and it was no different with ill-defined cloud computing. Government agencies immediately latched onto the idea that it could solve their woes and help to catch them up to everyone else. They were wrong.

But now, some years into the cloud discussion, technologists are looking beyond the marketing and taking a more measured and responsible look at where cloud fits into their organizations. During the California Technology Forum, the Department of Technology’s Scott MacDonald discussed the agency’s strategy and how they make the case for cloud services.

In his role as deputy director of Network and Cloud Services for the agency, he said the across-the-board approach is not sustainable or wise; deploying cloud must be looked at on a case-by-case basis. What’s more, he warned, is the fact that agencies and organizations often overlook the complexities of cloud services billing and security.

Though cloud brings with it inherent benefits like scalability, faster time to market and reliability, the deputy director cautioned that not every application will see the benefits without careful planning and consideration.

“There is kind of a lot of excitement about moving to the cloud, what do we move to the cloud, do we just pick up our datacenter and move everything to the cloud?” he said. “You really need to approach this on an application-by-application basis.”

Typically, MacDonald said, systems must be architected to meet the full potential.

“Some of the things you really need to step back and look at … first, it doesn’t make sense to move everything to the cloud. You’re not going to achieve all of those benefits that I just spoke about by default.”

The checklist he uses boils down to six R’s: retain, retire, rehost, replatform, refactor and rearchitect.

MacDonald said that the conversation should start with whether or not an application has the lifespan to even be a candidate for a cloud move, and if not, should it be retired? If it is worth keeping, is it a candidate for rehosting or replatforming?

When it comes to refactoring or rearchitecting, MacDonald said this is where organizations will see the most benefits within a cloud environment, while simply moving an entire application straight across may not always provide the most bang for the buck.

And as for security, there is no such thing as an unhackable cloud solution, he warned. “Don’t get a false sense of security by thinking that now that you have moved out to the public cloud it’s secure," he said. "A large part of that responsibility still relies back on you. I think a nice way to remember it is think of X-as-a-Service, it’s usually the X that’s the part they are securing.”

From basic infrastructure-, to platforms-, to software-as-a-service, the responsibility of the providers increases incrementally, but is never completely off the plate of the organization behind the data or application.

Where MacDonald said many organizations fall short is in developing an inclusive and comprehensive strategy around their cloud adoption model. Involving the business side of the house in the discussions around the enterprise cloud strategy helps to ensure that departments embrace the operational and cultural changes that come with cloud adoptions.

“Before you really start any of this, you need to have a strategy. I think that is the consistent thing I see across a lot of the organizations that is missing,” MacDonald said. “They see cloud as the latest and greatest thing, let’s all move everything to the cloud, but there needs to be a strategy on how you move to the cloud.”

This approach also helps to develop measurement tools and generally which problems they are trying to solve.

Another key component that's often overlooked in the larger discussions around moving to a cloud environment comes in the shape of the exit strategy. While it may be tempting to think of a cloud solution as the end-all fix to an agency’s data woes, there may come a time when data or applications need to be moved for one reason or another.

In addition to the costs associated with moving away from a solution, there will be logistical challenges as well. These challenges, MacDonald said, should be planned for as far in advance as possible to keep the business running with as little downtime as possible.

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.