How a Flooded Data Center Sparked a Cloud Migration Effort

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Agencies need to know their inventory and infrastructure before they start migrating, the SBA CIO said.

Cinderella’s '80s power ballad “You Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” hints at love lost and found, but for federal agencies and their vast IT inventories, they often just don’t know what they've got.

That’s according to Maria Roat, who became the chief information officer at the Small Business Administration in late 2016 and found a CFO Act agency with a host of IT issues.

“The week before I arrived [in October], there was water coming in on the floor,” Roat stated Thursday at the ATARC Federal Cloud and Data Summit in Washington. Roat had decided to tour a data center in SBA’s Beltway headquarters after a stormy evening.

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“It was not a good position to be in,” Roat said. “I took a hard look and asked my team, ‘what’s in there?’”

Roat said her IT staff, which includes 61 federal employees in her office and 110 outside it, brought her “four different lists of stuff in there.”

At that moment, Roat began piloting the agency toward cloud computing and a more modern infrastructure. The first step, she said, was figuring out what the agency had in regards to equipment, applications, connectivity and data storage, and she assigned a tiger team to “map everything.” By January, SBA had inventoried its IT.

The next challenge was examining the agency’s infrastructure, which spans some 88 offices across the country, and includes two separate networks, one for data and the other for voice communications. Roat examined utilization rates and moved from T1 and T3 lines to Ethernet where possible, quadrupling bandwidth in some places.

SBA also examined opportunities for consolidation, staying with its efforts to remaining “net-neutral” as no new money was allocated in the budget for these pushes.

Roat said in four months SBA hit the point where the agency knows enough about what it has—and what it doesn’t—to begin an earnest move to the cloud.

“It’s been the foundational stuff we’ve tackled, with the long-term vision of getting ready for the cloud,” Roat said. “My job is to enable the mission of SBA and the programs and loans they oversee to enable small businesses to get started. My job is to make sure the business of SBA happens. We’ve got a lot more opportunities, but I’ve got some work to do.”

Roat had priorities and some hard and fast rules for SBA’s infrastructure so old habits don’t creep back into the enterprise.

“We’re getting our arms around what will stay in house and what won’t,” Roat said. “I’m not putting anything else in our data center, nothing. I’ve told everybody.”

In addition, she’s elevated the importance of workforce as SBA positions to move to cloud computing.

“It’s important I’ve got the workforce with skill sets and competencies in cloud,” Roat said. “I’ve got to get out of the commodity business, but I’m looking at the workforce and what they bring to the table.”

Lastly, Roat said internal and external feedback is important. In building SBA’s cloud architecture, Roat said she’s reached across various program offices for expertise. This information can be vital when it comes to assessing what cloud architectures are most suitable across various lines of business or determining which applications are cloud ready.

“I’m not a big fan of lift and shift,” Roat said. “It’s OK in some instances, but when you’ve got legacy apps, you don’t know what you need to have.”

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