While federal, state and local agencies remain firm believers in hybrid environments, they face several obstacles.
“Cloud-first” has been a government imperative for many years, but the pandemic usurped that strategy, making “cloud-now” a priority. The results have been transformational.
The cloud made wide-scale government telework possible—a once-unthinkable prospect—but it’s also given agencies the opportunity to test drive new cloud applications and experience the scalability and security benefits first-hand. From cloud-powered financial assistance platforms to remote learning management systems for K-12 public schools, public sector organizations stood up transformative solutions in challenging conditions.
However, for all the good generated from this investment in “cloud-now,” challenges remain.
Although COVID-19 accelerated cloud adoption, there are still many situations where a private cloud is required—hence the popularity of hybrid IT environments. But these can be hard to manage at scale and require a specific skill set that’s not always easy to find.
What’s holding deployment up? While federal, state and local agencies remain firm believers in hybrid environments, they face several obstacles. For instance, ensuring a high-performing infrastructure is complicated. Traditional monitoring technologies may not work across these heterogeneous ecosystems. In certain situations, the speed at which some cloud applications were rolled out may also have resulted in unresolved security and compliance issues.
That’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. But what can agencies do to combat these concerns? Here are four recommendations to optimize public sector hybrid cloud environments.
1. Take a new approach to tooling.
When planning a cloud strategy, it’s easy to assume the right tools and technology are a cure-all for the complexities of hybrid cloud management. But not all technologies are created equal. Many are either designed for on-premises data centers or the cloud, not both.
Consequently, in a rush to build out cloud services, IT teams may have found themselves juggling between dashboards as they try to keep track of and control what’s going on in their hybrid architecture.
This area is ripe for optimization. Nobody has the time or skill to scrutinize multiple monitoring systems—exposing the organization to visibility and potential security gaps. IT leaders must prioritize a plan to control the complexities of monitoring hybrid environments with an integrated, holistic view of overall health, performance and security across the network, databases and applications.
2. Optimize the hybrid network.
With the case made for further investment in cloud services, network connectivity and performance will be key factors in ensuring the delivery of high-quality, mission-critical services. This means addressing network latency and any other issues before they impact end-users. Existing approaches to network performance monitoring may need to be expanded to handle increased cloud traffic and help prevent outages.
Software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) technologies also play a role in the future of hybrid. SD-WAN can help simplify network management tasks by intelligently routing traffic around congestion. The technology also brings greater security controls to the WAN edge. This means traffic destined for the cloud can bypass the on-premises data center (where these controls are usually applied) and transit seamlessly to the cloud without performance impact.
Indeed, the automation SD-WAN brings dramatically reduces the burden on network engineers and makes it much easier to manage performance as the network perimeter expands across hybrid infrastructures.
3. Get a handle on identity and access control.
Monitoring who has access to what is a standard security practice. But when employees, contractors and citizens interact with data from disparate sources—in the cloud and on-premises—security teams are finding out things get much more complicated.
In a rush to fill the security holes created by the “cloud-now” imperative, access controls such as multifactor authentication will likely replace passwords as the gold standard for digital access. Harmonizing existing access control mechanisms such as on-premises Active Directory and cloud-based Microsoft 365 in a centralized way will also ensure access rights are unified and managed across the entire hybrid infrastructure.
Other security practices like zero-trust frameworks, network segmentation and adhering to the cloud provider’s security best practices can help secure high-value assets wherever they reside in the hybrid environment.
4. Shift skills and mindsets.
As IT leaders are finding out, the skills involved in managing a hybrid cloud environment are different than those needed for on-premises infrastructure. The data center IT teams know has been abstracted away. Virtualization, containerization and even some elements of security create a wholly unfamiliar environment that must be managed in unison with and to the same high standards as on-site assets.
Technology can help, but agencies must also identify and nurture the right skills needed to support a hybrid cloud strategy in areas such as security and application performance monitoring. DevOps teams must be integrated into the process to ensure high-performing applications from staging to production. Meanwhile, business leaders and users also have a role to play and should be educated on how a hybrid environment supports the goals of the mission and how it can be leveraged effectively and securely.
The pandemic has made the case for IT modernization and accelerated cloud adoption, but for these services to be truly utilized by government personnel and citizens alike, they must be high-performing, easily accessible and secure. Only with these pillars in place will the cloud show its true value and help make the case for further investment and activate new use cases for the future.
Brandon Shopp is the vice president of product strategy for SolarWinds.