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Why the Hybrid Cloud Is on the Federal Horizon

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By Anne Altman IBM Federal June 30, 2014

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Federal agencies are continuing to move their information technology infrastructure and services to the cloud at an ever-increasing pace. A key reason for the accelerated adoption rate: the hybrid cloud model.

The term hybrid cloud is becoming more popular in the federal government, but what does it mean? Quite simply, it is an “all of the above” approach to cloud. The hybrid model combines the benefits of private and public clouds, virtual servers, along with existing onsite IT systems, to create the right IT mix for agencies.

Pure cloud implementations in the federal government are difficult and not practical, due to the complexity of today’s IT environments and the need to manage sensitive assets. Utilizing a hybrid cloud model gives agencies the best of both worlds: the ability to combine the strengths of existing on-premises solutions with the convenience and scalability of the cloud.

It has become clear through our discussions with government and industry leaders that true IT transformation within federal agencies will come through with full integration of hybrid clouds -- and this should guide the products and services  IT providers develop moving forward.

Still, as more agencies dig deeper and look to implement a hybrid approach, it becomes quite clear that the cloud is not a one-size-fits-all commodity; no two cloud platforms are built in the same way, or offer the same set of solutions that agencies need to meet their agency’s mission -- today and in the future.

As agencies assess their needs and IT providers develop cloud platforms for government use, here are a few tenets that should be a part of a hybrid cloud solution:

Be able to control the company you keep: In public cloud environments, resources are shared among multiple customers. You have guaranteed access to compute and storage resources, but if someone else on your public cloud node is consuming resources at the same time, your virtual server’s performance may vary. Public clouds have their advantages, but they are not the answer for every project. Having access to a private cloud environment, or single-tenant virtual servers, can provide total control of data and transparency, allowing agencies to build to their specific compliance and security needs and not have to worry about “noisy” neighbors.

Don’t compromise with the cloud: Just as every job is easier with the right tool, every workload runs better on the right technology. Complex cloud environments can have multiple, widely-ranging workloads. When needed, the right hybrid model should be able to take advantage of the raw performance of cloud, such as bare metal servers. These dedicated servers provide added control and enhanced performance predictability and are ideal for government workloads focused on high performance computing and advanced analytics.

Security must remain paramount: Despite the way it sounds, the cloud isn’t always a soft and fluffy place. Malicious activity can do damage that reaches beyond a single event, and seemingly innocuous gaps in security coverage can put everything at risk including data, sensitive information, uptime, and potentially an agency’s reputation. The right hybrid solution needs a wide range of security options for agencies to choose from, so chief information officers can protect their agencies’ infrastructure with multiple, overlapping layers of protection that are customized to their unique needs and interests.

The transition to the cloud at federal agencies has started ‐ but it is not a race. Agencies will continue to look to the cloud as they transform their IT infrastructure over time, moving services to this platform. As they do, they should consider a hybrid model that provides flexibility and scalability without sacrifice.

(Image via Singkham/Shutterstock.com)

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