Building the Federal Cloud From the Ashes of the Healthcare.Gov Debacle

HealthCare.gov

It’s been half a decade since the United States government announced its “Cloud First” campaign. Not everyone is on board, but the success stories are compelling. Private companies are increasingly treating cloud technology preferentially as well – it’s just a matter of approaching migration conscientiously.

  • Ladies First, and the Cloud is a Lady
  • Some Say Cloud is Not a Lady
  • Federal Cloud Success Stories
  • Commercial Cloud Success Story
  • First-Hand Advice for Cloud Migration

Ladies First, and the Cloud is a Lady

United States chief intelligence officer Vivek Kundra issued the “Cloud First” policy in December 2010 as a piece of a report with more than two dozen ways that management of IT could be improved at the federal level. It makes sense that one of those modernization efforts was to look more closely at cloud, consistently throughout the federal infrastructure.

In 2010, Cloud First was a huge sign that cloud computing was the centerpiece of modern IT. Two years later, agencies had responded, with more than 50% of them deploying at least one cloud application.

Cloud First especially makes sense in context. The federal government had already signaled its interest in systems to virtualize infrastructures, in some cases supplied by external providers, with the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative. Per the FDCCI, more than 1000 federal data centers were shut down through 2014, increasing both affordability and ease of management – partially thanks to cloud.

Some Say Cloud is Not a Lady

Some people are still unsure about cloud, though, especially given the ridiculous launch of HealthCare.gov. It’s easy to blame Verizon on that one, although they weren’t called in to assist until October 2013.

Granted, the Verizon cloud has generally been a cloud whipping boy for good reason.

Cloud thought leader David Linthicum slammed them for their scheduled 2-day outage in January: “Most of us who use the cloud need the services to be provided all the time,” he said. “A key reason we use cloud services is to take advantage of a massive computing infrastructure that can work around any outages, without interruption.”

Those who are still unsure about cloud point to research that shows federal offices aren’t adopting the solutions quickly enough. They say that the failure in cloud is largely due to lack of cloud technical skills among public-sector IT departments – in other words, it’s unfamiliar territory, and the government isn’t getting enough support.

“The reality is that in the past four years, the cloud-first policy has experienced slow traction due to a variety of economic, cultural and technical issues,” explained FCW. “But 2015 could be an inflection point to greater momentum for cloud deployments.”

Federal Cloud Success Stories

It’s easy to slam cloud on the basis of Healthcare.Gov, but that doesn’t reasonably represent the Cloud First effort. Three success stories are:

  • ATF – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is tiny compared to some agencies, with a workforce of only 4700. However, the company saved $1 million annually by shifting its email to a cloud server.
  • USDA – The Agriculture Department took the same step with email, migrating the system that handles electronic communications for its 100,000+ staff to public cloud. Simultaneously, the agency created a private cloud on-premises for the rest of its infrastructure. This hybrid solution cut the agency’s tech bill by $25 million per year during its first three years.
  • RATB – The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, founded in 2009, switched to public Infrastructure as a Service and cut its costs $855,000 over two years.

Commercial Cloud Success Story

Many companies in the private sector have adopted a Cloud First policy themselves, a trend that is sure to continue given General Electric’s pronouncement that it is “all in” with public cloud.

Ohio manufacturing company Veyance Technologies, which has 6000 employees, cloudified 120 applications stored on a diverse and disparate legacy architecture.

“Veyance wanted to move away from its siloed, multi-local architecture,” said technologist Larry Freeman. “[Veyance CIO John Hill] used every form of application migration available: virtual-to-virtual, physical-to-physical, physical-to-virtual, and even brute-force heterogeneous data migration.”

Various service providers and an internal project team of about 100 people successfully moved everything to cloud in just over six months, without having to increase the budget or go beyond scheduled downtime.

The change was a huge positive: 30% lower expenses (hosting, hardware, software licenses, and support) while improving the infrastructure’s capacity.

“More important,” argued Freeman, “when the information silos were removed, Veyance was able to streamline and coordinate global operations and improve overall productivity and collaboration.”

First-Hand Advice for Cloud Migration

Veyance CIO Hill provided the following tips for migration:

  • Take inventory of your current systems.
  • Get a strong provider that offers “robust support.”
  • You want a provider that offers both cloud migration and colocation for any systems remaining on traditional architecture.
  • Set your parameters and be consistent with networking and servers.

Whether the cloud is first or second for your company, choose Superb Internet. We have that robust support that Hill describes, leading to our own customer success stories; and we have substantial experience with colocation too.

By Kent Roberts

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