IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.
Sponsor Content
What does this mean?

Managing Hybrid Cloud Environments for Government


Today’s cloud environments are hardly all-encompassing, one-size-fits-all solutions.

Today’s cloud environments are hardly all-encompassing, one-size-fits-all solutions. Instead, they rely on multiple cloud providers, existing systems and connecting technologies, meaning that government IT environments sprawl from on-premises data centers and legacy mainframe systems to the farthest reaches of the internet.

“Multi-cloud ecosystems are diverse,” says Center for Digital Government (CDG) Senior Fellow Deb Snyder, who formerly served as the chief information security officer (CISO) for New York State. “That’s a good thing — you reduce the risk of vendor dependencies and get some assurance of availability and resiliency. All these things are beneficial.”

For state and local governments, it’s likely that hybrid cloud environments will continue to proliferate in the foreseeable future. Only 12 percent of respondents in CDG’s 2020 Digital States Survey reported they have moved more than half of their systems and applications to the cloud, while only eight percent of their city government counterparts and four percent of county government respondents had reached that milestone.

“Governments are not going to modernize everything at once — they don’t have the money and they don’t have the time,” says Phil Bertolini, vice president of CDG.

However, they aren’t alone. Nearly nine out of 10 (89 percent) of all organizations expect to have a meaningful on-premises footprint three years from now, according to one study.

Government agencies should consider the following best practices as they transition to and maintain hybrid cloud environments.

Treat cloud as part of the bigger picture

Bertolini puts the hybrid environment in perspective. “The cloud is an important add-on to your data center, another environment that you’re going to run,” he says. As such, cloud must become part of enterprise-wide operating frameworks and data governance policies that help spell out when cloud environments are the best fit for specific information and use cases — as well as more granular decisions about which cloud environment makes the most sense.

“Choosing cloud service providers compatible with your framework can help you take advantage of the ‘hybrid’ part of hybrid cloud,” says Snyder. “Keeping threat models current across the broad hybrid infrastructure is difficult — but essential.”

Determine priorities for cloud migration

Ironically, surveys of state and local government leaders consistently show the top factor driving cloud migration is cost — which also happens to be the top barrier preventing it.

That’s why it’s important to focus not on all-or-nothing cloud migration, but the specific benefits for each use case, cautions CDG Senior Fellow William (Bill) Rials, Ph.D. Too often, so-called “lift and shift” strategies that move existing applications to the cloud without rearchitecting them to take advantage of its benefits or changing the underlying business practices may be counterproductive.

“If it’s apples to apples and you’re doing the exact same thing, it’s going to be more expensive,” Rials cautions. “Some things run better on-premises, or there might not be a business case.”

That may be why state and local governments have focused to date on key systems and functions that already have mature cloud-native implementations, including geospatial services such as geographic information systems (GIS); application development and testing; and finance, administration and human resources applications.

It’s also important to consider regulatory or compliance factors and the related security issues that correspond with the shift to focusing on securing data, not systems, in a hybrid world.

Select — and support — specific cloud providers

Enterprise IT departments sometimes find themselves managing multiple clouds from different providers because of individual department or agency decisions. At the same time, some applications or use cases may be better suited for specific cloud environments, depending on their operating requirements or the vendor’s pricing structures based on bandwidth usage or the need to scale.

Whether by happenstance or design, managing multiple cloud environments becomes “even more complex, because every cloud vendor and service provider has their own way of doing things,” Rials says.

IT leaders will need to ensure APIs and other integrations are available for all use cases. Managing the underlying cloud environments may require a cloud orchestration platform — tools that allow administrators to manage multiple clouds through low-code or software controls.

Ensure adequate connectivity

While cloud integration is a common area of focus, Rials says the physical connections between on-premises systems and users and cloud environments are often overlooked.

“I don’t see it come up enough,” he cautions. “We talk about all the things individual cloud service providers can do with scalability and elasticity, but we fail to think about how we’re going to have that connectivity. Every cloud service provider is on the internet, so the assumption is that it just works.”

It’s important to weigh enterprise connectivity options — internet, direct connections or working with an exchange broker that offers direct connections to multiple cloud service providers. “All three are valid depending on your maturity,” Rials says. “All three should be considered.”

As with cloud orchestration platforms, it’s important the underlying network infrastructure can manage connectivity across multiple cloud providers. “Design your network infrastructure upfront so you have toolsets that are not native to specific cloud service providers, but that are cloud agnostic,” Rials says.

Address organizational culture

Finally, one of the key challenges of managing a hybrid cloud environment has nothing to do with technology. Since cloud modernization and business process improvement should — and often do — go hand in hand, it’s important to proactively address resistance among both IT staff and end users.

Modernization efforts “are incompatible with the way we’ve always done it, no matter the benefits,” Rials cautions. “Sometimes that culture barrier outweighs everything technical.”