Clearing a path to multicloud as the new foundation for digital government
To say that the last year has been challenging for state and local governments is a massive understatement. While citizens turned to their state and local agencies for guidance during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local leaders were largely left to navigate the uncertainty without a roadmap or assistance from the Federal government. They were forced to quickly pivot resources, accelerate modernization and adapt to a new remote workforce reality—all while trying to provide the answers and support their citizens.
The pandemic and subsequent economic crisis has underscored the need for IT modernization to power the effective and efficient delivery of digital services—from enabling remote work and virtual education to providing vaccine information, COVID tracking, and unemployment benefits. And, although a year has passed, the consensus from government leaders is there will not be a return to the old normal, rather agencies and citizens alike need solutions for the “next normal.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, the true value of the cloud for state and local agencies and educational institutions became crystal clear. And, with the new Federal stimulus package providing $350 billion in fiscal relief to states, localities and tribal governments, there has never been a better time to invest in the power of the cloud—more specifically the power of multicloud.
Multicloud offers flexibility to take advantage of the strengths of multiple vendors to meet mission needs. The benefits include optimizing costs and performance, reducing downtime, leveraging geographically dispersed clouds to meet data sovereignty requirements and avoiding vendor lock-in. But multicloud comes with greater complexity. Multicloud requires a new layer of expertise, management and reporting. The ability to expertly navigate multicloud’s complexity and optimize security are the keys to long-term success.
Legacy systems at a breaking point
For many, in addition to the challenges of finding ways to implement multicloud solutions to scale up remote workforce and learning, the pandemic exposed many of the serious limitations of legacy systems—including unemployment compensation and local assistance enrollment and management systems. In many cases, these critical systems are running on decades-old mainframe platforms, which cannot scale to extreme demand or rapidly incorporate changes to benefit programs.
Many of the pandemic-necessitated stopgap cloud-based measures—which previously may have been categorized as shadow IT—have yielded tremendous short-term value. More importantly, however, they hold the key to transforming citizen services well into the future.
In August 2020, Rep. James Langevin (D-RI), along with other members of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission introduced the State and Local IT Modernization and Cybersecurity Act, which addresses a recommendation from the commission’s pandemic white paper that calls for helping state and local governments migrate legacy IT infrastructure to modern, resilient platforms, including cloud-based services. Along with legislation like this and funding from the Federal stimulus, state and local governments can turn their focus to securing cloud-based initiatives and extending and optimizing their impact.
Multicloud is a force multiplier
If one cloud is good, two or more must be better. There is growing recognition that one solution does not fit all and that no single cloud platform is a good match for every use case. This growing interest in multicloud modernization is reflected in enterprise IT plans. According to a Center for Digital Government survey, with one 2020 Digital Counties Survey top finisher stating, “The use of a multiplicity of cloud offerings as a preferred option (unless proven otherwise) will enable the county to rapidly evolve to more modern, continuously updated, secure systems that are supported by mission-critical vendor partners, allowing IT staff to focus on business process evaluation and reengineering and applying appropriate solutions and innovation.”
Along with the previously mentioned benefits, there are several other critically important reasons to invest in multicloud modernization, including evolving cyber posture from a primarily passive to a more active strategy—to hedge against potential security threats and service outages. To accomplish that, agencies will need to leverage the power of multicloud to incorporate automation and software-based analytics tools and capabilities using emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Additionally, it helps leaders optimize IT budgets and expand public sector organizations’ ability to compare pricing, negotiate and fully leverage the cost-savings of cloud.
More clouds, more complexity
One of the original value propositions of the cloud was its simplicity. Any maturing technology, however, inherently brings new complexity and confusion. Cloud is no different. Multicloud brings new challenges to every phase of the lifecycle: design, build, secure, manage and optimize. The right strategy for the complete lifecycle will optimize value and reduce risk and cost associated with missteps that necessitate multiple moves.
The questions are endless: What is our multicloud strategy? What goes where—public, private, hybrid? Which public cloud is best for each use case? How do we manage a growing universe of integrations? How do we optimize operational efficiencies? How do we properly evaluate datasets and applications to set the right security and governance policies as they transition to new cloud environments and avoid the risk and expense of having to move data multiple times? Do we have the right staff and expertise to plan, manage, monitor and secure multiple cloud offerings?
Managing a multicloud environment, where workloads are distributed across clouds and each cloud has its own interfaces, security requirements, SLAs and data flows, can place a tremendous burden on already overworked in-house IT teams.
A clear path forward
Navigating the ever-evolving multicloud ecosystem is no easy task, and organizations increasingly seek resources that can help them plot a clear path forward, while eliminating a mounting operational burden. One of the keys to success is the ability and expertise to fully optimize workloads across public clouds like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), as well as private cloud. It’s about scoping, designing and deploying, as well the right capability and expertise to manage and audit security controls of public cloud environments and applications—not just the 15 percent of security at the physical layer of the cloud infrastructure—but also the remaining 85 percent of security “in the cloud” including critical data, applications and workloads.
Recently, one of the largest states in the U.S. successfully modernized and expanded its multicloud Public Cloud Program, taking the opportunity to use cost optimization tools and greatly improve security to ensure a long-term future in the cloud. The state went a step further as it looked to where it would need to go in the future. To further its public cloud expertise, the state’s IT group is working with industry experts to leverage a Cloud Center of Excellence (CCOE) to help state agencies exploit the benefits of public cloud. The CCOE includes complex cloud engineers, administrators and a senior cloud architect. In addition to public cloud expertise, the CCOE will offer advance knowledge of new services from hyper scalers as well as emerging public cloud technologies.
The scalability, flexibility, efficiency and innovation of the new multicloud public cloud program in that state—and others like it—are allowing agencies grappling with unprecedented technology demand to deliver improved digital services to meet the needs of citizens and employees.
The pandemic crystalized the need to accelerate digital transformation across government. Multicloud modernization provides an attractive path forward, delivering greater flexibility and the ability to match use cases to the best cloud for the job. The complexity that comes along with multicloud, however, does not need to halt progress in its tracks for public sector organizations that plan carefully. The key is a fully baked multicloud strategy and multicloud-as-a-service (MCaaS) solutions that streamline and optimize planning, governance, security and management.
Joe Nanus is the senior sales lead for SLED at Rackspace Technology, managing sales and business development across state, local, higher ed and K-12 market. He has spent the last 23 years in the public sector technology industry, as a part of IT Industry leaders such as Dell, EMC and Absolute software.