Should Your Government Agency Use a Hybrid Cloud?
Cloud computing has come a long way since J.C.R. Licklider introduced the concept of an “intergalactic computer network” in 1969. Licklider imagined that one day, everyone would be interconnected through a universally accessible data network, a concept very similar to what we call “cloud computing” today.
Licklider did not live to see it, but cloud computing has truly revolutionized the global IT environment — particularly in the past few decades as cloud technology and virtualization have become affordable for, and widely embraced by, businesses and agencies. And the technology has continued to evolve, paving the way for hybrid cloud environments that blend public and private clouds to achieve the optimal secure data storage environment.
Historically, government agencies have been reluctant to migrate to hybrid cloud solutions, primarily due to concerns over cost and security, but a hybrid approach offers significant benefits that make it worth your time to learn more.
What Is a Hybrid Cloud?
A hybrid cloud combines a private cloud (accessible only within an agency’s network) with a public cloud (accessible to the general public). Although each cloud remains distinct from the other and can operate independently, the two also communicate via an encrypted connection, granting portability to applications and data.
This configuration allows agencies to store sensitive or privileged data on the private cloud, while exploiting the capabilities of public cloud applications that use the data. Organizations that use a hybrid cloud can utilize the resources, capacity, data, and software of the public cloud while retaining sensitive information in their own private cloud. Leaning on the capabilities of a public cloud system also means that your agency can spend fewer resources on running and maintaining your own internal data center.
While government agencies have historically shied away from the public cloud because of potential security risks, these organizations are slowly embracing the more-secure hybrid cloud model, and the federal government is projected to spend $9 billion on cloud computing in 2017:
Government agencies are beginning to see the benefits of cloud computing, so what could the benefits be for your organization?
Benefits of Hybrid Cloud Computing for Government Agencies
The hybrid cloud model’s primary advantage is that it allows private management of sensitive data. This is particularly relevant to government agencies, which frequently manage both privileged and public data. But that’s not the only benefit to the hybrid cloud model: even small agencies can realize multiple benefits from a hybrid cloud:
- Extensive customization options: A seemingly limitless number of applications and technologies are cloud-compatible, so your organization can build a highly customized working environment. You get the flexibility of being able to choose the best application for each task, regardless of the delivery platform.
- Compatibility with existing infrastructure: Because cloud computing requires no additional hardware and can operate independently, it can be layered on top of an existing IT architecture with minimal disruption.
- Flexible data location: Many government agencies must comply with security regulations, and a hybrid cloud allows that compliance by providing private data storage on the internal cloud. Less sensitive data can be stored via public cloud, freeing up data management resources.
- Seamless sharing: Today’s networks increasingly include not only traditional IT hardware, but also mobile and Internet of Things–enabled devices. These can be easily incorporated into a hybrid cloud environment with ready-to-use cloud-based services.
- Endless scalability: As your data storage needs change, non-sensitive computing workloads can be shifted to the public cloud as needed, resulting in optimized IT operations costs.
- Distributed responsibility for data security: Thanks to legacy systems, many government agencies struggle to maintain up-to-date cybersecurity systems. Public cloud service providers can increasingly ensure data security, eliminating risk for the agency.
- Greater agility: Storage via private cloud reduces both latency and access time, but also means finite capacity. Incorporating the public cloud offers government agencies the ability to continually optimize capacity and speed as technology needs change.
Tips for Government Agencies Moving to a Hybrid Cloud
In the private sector, the decision to move to a hybrid cloud can often be made autonomously by IT leaders who simply communicate their decision to the rest of the organization as needed. But because government agencies are accountable to the public, their transition process requires more collaboration and education. A few steps can make it easier for IT professionals to lead the transition to the hybrid cloud within government agencies:
- Develop a strategy first: Identify key functions that should be maintained privately, along with opportunities for using a public cloud. Use these to build a hybrid cloud strategy tailored for your organization.
- Educate key agency leaders: Take the time to explain what a hybrid cloud is, how other government agencies have successfully used this technology, and how it will benefit your agency. Organizational support for cloud migrations is critical, not just technologically but also culturally.
- Partner with the right providers: These days, plenty of public cloud providers have collaborated extensively with government agencies. Choosing providers with a proven track record will give agency leaders more confidence in the transition.
- Don’t forget communication: The salient feature of a hybrid cloud is communication between public and private, which creates data access points. Be sure to address these in your IT security plan so that you can fully leverage the benefits of each network.
- Monitor your public cloud use: It’s easy to over-purchase public cloud resources. Monitor your use to identify opportunities to reduce costs while still maintaining adequate capacity.
- Maintain accountability: IT leaders often find it beneficial to put together simple monthly or quarterly reports outlining the ongoing cost savings from their hybrid cloud systems. You may also want to include information about emerging cybersecurity risks and how those will be addressed both internally and by your public cloud providers.
Ultimately, the hybrid cloud offers the flexibility, scalability, and cost effectiveness that government agencies need. With the right approach, moving to the hybrid cloud can provide benefits beyond the IT department to your entire organization — as well as the public your agency serves.
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