5 Steps Agencies Can Take to Prepare for Pitfalls in the Cloud (Industry Perspective)

There still isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to the public cloud, but agencies shouldn't panic.

by Tom Ruff, VP of Public Sector, Akamai / June 6, 2017

The merits of cloud have long been a point of discussion. Is a public or private cloud more preferable? What should government consider versus the private sector when using a cloud-based content delivery network (CDN)?

The four-hour outage of a public cloud in March, which impacted hundreds of thousands of websites, re-ignited the debate. While this episode seemingly highlighted the pitfalls of the cloud, particularly the public cloud, agencies shouldn’t panic — there still isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to deployment. Instead, agencies should be educated on all facets of cloud, and understand the pros and cons of every option, as well as contingency plans.

Why Cloud?

Regulations, strict budgets and aging legacy technology are limiting the capabilities of government at every level, but migrating data to the cloud allows agencies to adapt and adjust. Many government organizations are finding that cloud-based applications and services are an effective way to meet both the current and long-term needs that a government Web portal requires. Cloud computing has the potential to play a major role in addressing the inefficiencies in some government IT environments while improving government service delivery. It can also help agencies coping with the need to quickly deliver highly reliable, innovative services despite strains on resources. 

Agencies that have decided to make the move to cloud should evaluate their needs and budget when deciding to opt for the public or private cloud. Most cloud adopters are more likely to select the private cloud over public for apps that handle sensitive information or are highly specialized, which is the case for many government agencies. The stability and security of the private cloud are its biggest benefits. But the flexibility of the public cloud is also attractive — services can be quickly turned up and turned back down depending on the storage needs of the organization. The flexibility of the public cloud also offers opportunity for cost savings.

Lessons Learned from Cloud Outages

One of the pitfalls of moving applications to the cloud is that there’s a domino effect any time there is a problem. No agency is immune to the possibility of an outage. The most common causes of outages are typically software related, or in the recent case, human error. But there are a number of steps that agencies can take to be better prepared for potential issues. 

  1. Have backup storage in place for crucial data.
    Critical information that will severely limit a user’s Web experience if it’s unavailable, like images or PDFs, should be stored locally. This way that content can be served directly from an agency's own server as backup in case of an outage.
  2. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.
    Dispersing data across multiple databases in the cloud helps to better spread and mitigate potential risk so that in the case of an outage, only parts of a website go down as opposed to the entire thing.
  3. Accept that bad things will happen.
    When agencies move to the cloud, they must accept everything that comes with that move, both good and bad. While moving to the cloud keeps bad actors off an agency's actual network, there is still a level of risk that agencies must assume. Threats will never disappear; agencies just have to learn how to manage them.
  4. Put a strategy in place.
    IT teams should be prepared for any type of scenario and not only have a plan in place, but train on that plan. Cloud security is a shared responsibility and agencies should not forget that they aren’t in this alone. Collaborate with other agencies and organizations that have already made the move to cloud and discuss lessons learned to apply to your strategy. 
  5. Ensure your enterprise has a scalable Domain Name Service (DNS) infrastructure.
    The enterprise threat landscape is ever-changing, and combining sophisticated threats with the adoption of cloud has introduced new gaps in visibility, security and control. Since all enterprise Web requests begin with DNS, it’s the perfect control point to secure enterprise-wide visibility into Web requests and apply security. A cloud-based recursive DNS infrastructure coupled with global visibility and threat intelligence can enable enterprises to quickly detect, identify and mitigate threats.

Agencies should not let the outage earlier this year deter them from migrating to the cloud, either public or private, as cloud-based storage holds many advantages. Moving to cloud-based services means that agencies don’t need to invest in or maintain the infrastructure, hardware or bandwidth required to deliver Web portal services, instead delivering specific IT capabilities as they are needed. Such an offering is particularly important when a government portal offers services that fluctuate in demand or consume a large amount of bandwidth, all while reducing cost, deployment time and complexity. 

Tom Ruff is vice president of public sector for Akamai.