Key Takeaways from ‘Putting Cloud Smart into Practice: Lessons from the Frontlines’ Webinar
As federal agencies work to fulfill their critical missions from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the cloud, with its scalability, reliability and security, has become increasingly important in allowing government to in a cost effective manner. On May 20, Iron Bow Technologies, in collaboration with Intel, Dell, and VMware, hosted a webinar titled “Putting Cloud Smart into Practice: Lessons from the Frontlines” in which government technology leaders gathered in a panel-style webinar to discuss their lessons learned and best practices from overcoming cloud migration challenges around budgets, workforce, strategy, and legacy infrastructure. Panelists included John Moses, Director, Governance and Enterprise Management Services at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Sanjay Gupta, Chief Technology Officer at the Small Business Administration, Troy Massey, Director, Enterprise Engagements at Iron Bow Technologies and Rob Chee, Director, Enterprise Security at Iron Bow Technologies. The webinar was moderated by Jim Smid, Chief Technology Officer at Iron Bow Technologies.
The one-hour webinar was split into two sections. During the first half panelists Massey and Chee shared about IronTarget™, Iron Bow’s cloud solution. The second half was spent as a Q&A session in which Gupta and Moses shared their lessons learned and best practices from their journeys of adopting a cloud solution. Here are four takeaways from this thought leader packed webinar.
Takeaway #1: You need a way to stay secure while working remotely
As Massey and Chee explained, IronTarget was born as an answer to the United States Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) new Cloud Smart policy that was announced in October, 2018. IronTarget is a software-defined, private cloud solution that allows users to have the full flexibility and capabilities of multi-cloud enablement. This on-premises cloud bridges to public clouds, allowing workloads to be simply moved back and forth as needed. It powers this multi-cloud approach by offering a quick route to cloud infrastructures, while also providing a single point of management for the various platforms. “Agencies need a way to move to the cloud in a simple and secure way. IronTarget combined with a Commercial Solution for Classified (CSfC) solution provides flexible hosting of data and enforces secure access to the data to that data wherever users are located” explains Chee. “It became especially important after COVID-19 hit; folks absolutely need a way to access their data remotely from their houses with NSA approved solutions that allow users to connect to the public Internet and access sensitive data in a safe manner.”
In 2020, many agencies are still struggling with their strategic migration to cloud (compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic that forced millions of employees to work from home), and even when the federal workforce returns to the office, agencies will still need a strong cloud strategy. “You can’t throw all your stuff onto the cloud and see if it sticks – you need a strategy. Create an approach that works for your company and analyze what should – and should not – go into the cloud,” states Massey. “What sets IronTarget apart is that you not only get the secure, cost-effective solution you need but you also get our team of top experts to help you optimize, troubleshoot, and increase your organization’s efficiencies so that you can run your organization confidently knowing that your data is still as secure as it was before. That is essential in today’s post-COVID world, whether you are working from home or are back in the office.”
Takeaway #2: Being on the cloud is essential for business continuity in a post-COVID world
Now that some agencies have ensured security with the move to remote working, the next question, understandably, is – what happens when states start to reopen? For the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Moses explains that as employees return to work and NRC resident inspectors perform their duties, the NRC is providing the proper personal protection equipment (PPE). In addition, the NRC is constantly reevaluating its business practices to move them to an electronic format. “We’ll also continue to be cautious and maximize telework because we can support it given our infrastructure and multi-cloud solution that was put in place before the pandemic hit. As you can understand, the safety and security of the nation’s nuclear power facilities is vital since nuclear power is an essential service so it’s very important to be able to keep business operations going and the cloud allowed us to do that.”
For Sanjay Gupta at the Small Business Administration (SBA), the exodus to remote work was effective because of their IT infrastructure, as well. The agency was able to “transition to remote work fairly quickly and smoothly. This was crucial because we are amongst the few agencies at the forefront of helping with recovery process for the country. It was critical that we were in a good business continuity position and that largely has to do with our multi-cloud, or hybrid, model of Cloud Smart that we have been adopting at the SBA.” Gupta explains the organization chose a multi-cloud or hybrid model so they could take advantage of the scalability that this model offers. “Our work volume increased exponentially after COVID and having that ability to seamlessly scale to our workload was a big part of our survival. Had we not been in the cloud, we would not have been able to sustain the growth we saw.”
Takeaway #3: The earlier you migrate to cloud, the better
“Early cloud adoption use cases is something we continue to see,” says Smid and Moses agreed, sharing his own story: Before his NRC days, Moses helped his organization adopt a cloud as early as seven years ago. When he started to see other agencies shift to the cloud, he knew it was something his organization needed to do, too. He decided to utilize Continuity of Operations (COOP) as a way of getting the cloud adopted. COOP is an effort within individual executive departments and agencies to ensure that Primary Mission Essential Functions (PMEFs) continue to be performed during a wide range of emergencies, including localized acts of nature, accidents and technological or attack-related emergencies. “Building out our full COOP environment was essentially building everything out in the cloud. It took a little bit of time to migrate all the data over to the cloud and when we put the system through its paces, it worked. The COOP environment demonstrated that working in the cloud gives you the scalability, resilience, and the flexibility to turn off and turn on different services.”
Gupta’s approach is simple but effective: just go and do it. “I say: Think big, start small, iterate rapidly. Thinking about it isn’t enough, you have to start doing the work. That’s how we moved forward. You won’t know everything you want to know before you start the journey but start anyway. You learn by doing it.”
Takeaway #4: There are different strategies for overcoming challenges of cloud migration
Two common challenges to cloud migration is how to handle your legacy infrastructure and overcoming budget constraints. Both of our panelists were fortunate enough to have adopted the cloud early on which allowed them the speed and ease of standing up their cloud environment with relatively minor roadblocks with legacy infrastructure. Gupta and the SBA found ways to augment existing systems with new, cloud-based solutions that were stood up in just a few days, and that helped handle the exponential increase in traffic. While Moses’ organization also reaped the benefits of being an early cloud adopter, he shared that bandwidth was more of an issue today and his agency set out to automate as much as possible. “Sending a form was not going to be fast enough so we took existing online platforms and rebuilt them to accept automated web forms and edited the backend processes. In a matter of weeks, we figured out how to build automated processes online for the entire scope of what we regulate,” he says. “COVID forced the public and private sector to put in place those digital transformation activities. If an organization didn’t have a cloud presence before, they are definitely getting one now.”
When it came to budget constraints, both panelists offered several strategies that they used, one of them is bootstrapping. Bootstrapping is a business term that means stretching resources as far as you can. Moses offers, “We used bootstrapping in order to fund modernization. We also used funding requests for longer term cloud strategies” and invested the funds into building out the IT infrastructure, expanding bandwidth, and redesigning solutions as we move to the cloud.
Gupta used a few different tactics. “Show them rather than tell them,” he says. “We showcased the capabilities of the cloud and shared our calculated cash savings.” He also used a simple analogy: cloud usage is like a light switch and your electricity bill: the moment you flip on the light, the meter starts and continues to run until you turn it off. If you “switch off” the cloud during, say, weekends and after business hours, you save on costs. “It’s a simple utility model,” says Gupta.
The webinar concluded after a Q&A session with the audience and the recording is available online through this link. Thank you to all our panelists, our moderator, and our partners for this informative webinar. If you would like more information on Iron Bow Technologies or IronTarget, the software-defined data center, feel free to follow the provided hyperlinks or download our white paper by clicking the link below.
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