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     Credit: GreenTech/Shutterstock

Commercial Cloud Complexity

February 28, 2019
By Kimberly Underwood
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Companies are working to clear the fog to aid more federal government use of the cloud.


Commercial cloud offers the federal government access to a dynamic computing environment almost immediately, with services or capabilities they may not have previously had access to during the time of having to purchase all of the hardware, software and infrastructure themselves. However, the roll out to the cloud for the government has not come quickly or easily, experts say.

One of the biggest challenges preventing the government from adopting cloud faster or in a bigger way is management of the cloud spend, Jay Colavita, president of Leesburg, Virginia-based Vertosoft, tells SIGNAL Magazine. “Part of moving to the cloud means managing cloud use on a daily basis, to stay within budgetary parameters,” Colavita said. For example, he says, if an agency or office has a $100,000 contract with a cloud provider for the fiscal year, the contract officer or program manager within that office has to tightly track the use of cloud by each employee.

And although the purpose of the cloud is to scale up or down computing, storage or data needs quickly, “as you scale up or down, that is costing you money on a per minute, per hour basis,” he notes.

Software is available to help manage the burden of tracking cloud spending. Vertosoft works with clients using Cloudtamer’s product cloudtamer.io, which allows a program manager or a contract officer to allocate the funding to individual users. “It gives that program manager or contract officer fine grain control to ensure they don't spin up services that are not compliant with the organization,” Colavita says.

But what happens when an office reaches their cloud spending limit early? Colavita explains that program managers have to make some fairly quick decisions of what to do in that instance. “Do you stop running it, do you archive it, do you remove it completely depending on what it is or do you quickly allocate additional funds to it to keep it up and running?” he asks. That's the whole thing with the cloud. You haven’t prepaid. You’re going to receive that bill at the end of the month for whatever that spend is.”

As such, decision makers have to be careful about what they move to cloud. “Because of that risk, a lot of organizations have been reluctant to roll out the cloud because obviously the more you roll out to the cloud, the bigger this problem gets,” he notes. In addition, users typically aren’t moving projects back and forth between the cloud. “Once it's in the cloud, it seems to stay there,” he says. “Because it creates a lot more complexity as you move things back and forth.”

He ventures that although the cloud has long been touted as a way to save money, it is a little more complicated than that. Clients may not see cost savings quickly. “I think it'll take awhile for people to figure out how to really build a true ROI [return on investment],” Colavita says. “Over time, the cost savings will be there, but it'll be further down the road.”

The possibility of the federal government using the cloud has been a pulling force for computing products over the last few years. Companies are working to make sure that their digital solutions will work in the cloud as ubiquitously as traditional platforms.

George Young, vice president, U.S. Public Sector, Elastic, confirms the San Francisco-based company has worked to make its offerings available across various cloud platforms. “I think one of the things that makes our cloud offering interesting is that we have figured out how to take the technology and make it work in any cloud that you want, in a private cloud or on premise,” Young says.

He stresses that it is important to give the federal government the ability to choose the right cloud technologies and not force them into a situation where there is only one deployment model available. Especially for agencies that have distributed locations, like the Department of Defense or the Department of Agriculture, customers may be relying on a satellite connection that has low bandwidth and a high latency, which is not going to work effectively for a cloud environment, he adds. “If you're transmitting data from a ship, it's not going to function well,” he says. “So [it's best] for us to allow you to run your workloads wherever it makes sense for you.”

Young also suggested that not everything belongs in the cloud. “One of the things I'd say in general, is that to some degree the government is losing its mind over the cloud,” Young offers. “Everyone's like, ‘cloud first’ and ‘we have to go into the cloud.’ And we're dealing with a lot of folks in the government who were early adopters of cloud, in places like the intelligence community. And they're figuring out that the cloud isn't the panacea for everything. The cloud is the right solution for certain things and it's not the right solution for other things.”

Splunk, which offers extensive data analytics software, began cloud offerings eight years ago, and in 2017 introduced a service to aid users’ enterprise migration to Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. Like other companies, Splunk has made sure that the same products are available to users for their own data centers, in their own cloud environments or available as a service through the cloud. “It means that the ability to perform big data analytics is reaching more users, because the Splunk software in the cloud offers the full capabilities of the traditional Splunk platform,” says Nick Murray, the company’s director of public sector cloud sales. “Fundamentally the utility is no different. The searching capabilities, and reporting, we built the cloud to have the full parity.”

And although Splunk’s offerings have been around for several years in the commercial cloud market, Murray shares that they are just breaking into the cloud-related federal space in the process of getting FedRamp accreditation.

Murray contends that the cloud will enable “the democratization of analytical capabilities” for the federal government. “It is not just for data scientists in a lab anymore,” he says. “What we are seeing from [customers] is that they love the utility of getting the analytics out faster. They are not worried about working with their internal teams to build out a virtual machine or architecture to run Splunk.  They’re now more worried about what data they’re bringing in and what analytics that they are getting out.”

For the virtualization computing company VMware Corp., executives saw a shift several years ago in the cloud marketplace with enterprise customers—Fortune 500 companies, big banks, logistics organizations (like FedEx) and health care providers—wanting to be able to utilize commercial cloud services while still maintaining an information technology footprint, namely a hybrid environment.

“As we started to see that pivot happen in the market, VMware started to re-platform and effectively develop future products to be able to take advantage of that,” says Bill Rowan, VMware vice president, federal sales. “We approached IBM and Amazon with this idea, and it made a lot of sense to truly give the client the ability to leverage cloud offerings and infrastructure without having to go through the challenges and frustrations of re-platforming their applications.”

The company, which has had DOD agencies and services build cloud foundation or projects on VMware, is now working to bring the same solutions through the FedRamp process to AWS. As the federal cloud marketplace grows, Rowan says he thinks it will be interesting to see “how we as a technology company will have to shift the way we generally engage with a client because it's going to be clear they're going to shift the way that they're going to consume things in the cloud.”

Additionally, the federal government’s move to the cloud is driving the need for cloud-platform skills in the workforce, observes Matthew Stratford, managing principal at BridgePhase LLC. The Arlington, Virginia-based business, which builds and integrates secure software applications, also is an AWS consulting partner.

In that role, company officials help military and government clients accelerate their migration to AWS platforms. "Leveraging the AWS cloud platform is a critical enabler for our clients ability to increase the frequency of high quality deployments while achieving scalability and stability in a secure Microservices based architecture," Stratford says. The company uses AWS tools to implement “a true DevOps [development and operations] model,” he stresses.

To become an AWS partner, companies have to meet certain qualifications. As such, BridgePhase needs to staff appropriate workforce capabilities. "For this reason, continuing to expand our experience and skill sets across the AWS platform has become a major focus for our employee development process," he shares.

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