When it Comes to Cloud Migration, Leave the Junk Behind

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Not doing so will drive up cost and delay modernization, Army IT official Thomas Sasala said.

One of the key lessons Army officials are learning as they migrate more and more data into the cloud is that not everything should be included—and the “junk” should most certainly be omitted.

“When you build a brand new house, you don’t want to move all the old furniture in,” Thomas Sasala, chief data officer and director of operations and architecture of the Office of the Chief Information Officer/G-6 Department of the Army told attendees of FCW’s Cloud Summit Tuesday. “More importantly, what we see people doing [when migrating into the cloud] is also moving all their trash cans with all their trash in it and letting it stack up.”

It’s critical for agencies and organizations to clean out their “digital landfills” ahead of moving to the cloud.

“Not everything is appropriate for the cloud and we don’t want everything in there—not because the technology can’t support it, but because it just doesn’t make sense,” Sasala said.

Sasala said another lesson Army officials learned as they implemented their strategic cloud framework is that just because an application is included in a cloud migration doesn’t necessarily mean all of its data should be inserted. For example, the headquarters of the Department of the Army has 1.8 petabytes worth of storage on its file servers and 60% of the data hasn’t been accessed in five years “at all, by a human being, or a computer, and yet it’s on a very expensive [storage area network],” Sasala said.

Of the 40% that has been accessed, Sasala said 80% hasn’t been touched in three months.

“So the stuff that’s closest to the fence line represents less than 10% of the total storage we have online,” he said. “And so the concept of tiering the storage, aging things out and archiving or literally destroying the information is something that we really need to wrap our heads around at the Department of Defense.”

To move and maintain all the unaccessed data would be incredibly costly for the Army. “The transaction fees would kill us in the long term,” Sasala said.

In order to mitigate this, his department is figuring out ways to set and stick with priorities while also maintaining a willingness to adjust when necessary. He added that it’s also absolutely critical to have buy-in from the very top before moving to the cloud.

Further, Sasala noted the department and its leadership are working to manage and police the “junk” through governance—a practice his undersecretary calls “ruthless rationalization.”

“And he really does mean ruthless,” Sasala said. Officials must identify the legitimate mission need for the data or application that’s clearly demonstrable and tied directly back to the mission outcomes ahead of migrating it to the cloud. Not doing so has the potential to drive up costs and delay modernization in the long run, he said.

“That’s my recommendation to you: absolute senior leader buy-in and ruthless rationalization.”

Like many departments, this is still very much a work in progress for the Army. In the short term, though, Sasala said they are rewriting the data strategy that will inform their work going forward relative to cloud implementation.

A draft of the new strategy is set to be released at the end of this month for coordination and comments.