5 key strategies for re-architecting agency IT systems

Deciding when to rebuild is a complex process, but it boils down to a key question: Does the service in question enable or hinder the agency's mission?

Netapp community profile image: Kirk Kern.

Kirk Kern says a successful journey to the cloud begins with an evaluation of an agency’s strategic goals.

Facing flat to declining budgets, agency CIOs, chief technology officers and IT managers are not only hesitating to embark on big new IT infrastructure projects, they are evaluating existing systems to determine if re-architecture initiatives can reduce costs, improve resource utilization and lead to greater data-storage efficiency.

For an agency embarking on an IT system re-architecture project, one of the most critical decision points is determining which IT assets to retain on premise and which to migrate to the cloud – and in what type of cloud infrastructure (public, private, hybrid) those latter assets should reside. Agencies are increasingly confident that transitioning to a cloud approach can result in cost savings and efficiency benefits; GovWin’s Federal Cloud Computing Market Outlook projects the market will grow at a compound annual rate of 32 percent over the next three years.

Multiple factors are at work in determining when to embark on an IT systems re-architecture project, but the ultimate trigger for agencies should be when IT services transition from being an enabler to the limiting factor in satisfying the agency mission or goals. For agency CIOs, CTOs and other decision makers, there are five key strategies to consider:

1. Define agency goals or mission

A successful journey to the cloud should begin with an evaluation of an agency’s strategic goals. For example, is the desire to process more applications per day and reduce wait time? To create a uniform (deterministic response) customer experience? Or is the aim to improve data retention capabilities, or simply to create dynamic and scalable service capabilities? Each goal has different end-user effects and corresponding IT requirements. Leveraging a cloud infrastructure can also be used to shift the focus of IT resources to higher value-added activities for the organization or agency, or to support business innovation and potentially lower risks.

2. Recognize services and IT infrastructure that should remain on-premise

Agencies are, for the most part, evaluating all technology, personnel, budget and political variables to determine how much and how fast IT services can be shifted to a cloud infrastructure. Over time, agencies have moved beyond utilizing the cloud for day-to-day services (email, websites, etc.), and are confident enough to shift core applications such as accounting, finance, payroll and personnel databases -- and even mission-critical data for intelligence or military command control and communications systems.

Despite a greater level of agency comfort with the cloud, a strong case exists for certain services to remain on-premise – first and foremost those with real-time performance and latency specifications. There are other use cases where proximity to source or the volume of data prevents its movement.  For these environments, network bandwidth is either cost prohibitive or unachievable because of the physical limits of the transport.

The final use case is sensitive or classified information processing that must be protected with the highest confidence. Military agencies, for example, might be shifting email to the cloud, but may want to keep it housed internally to retain ownership and operation.

3. Define budget and services required to support goals

Any cloud computing strategy must start with evaluating the IT service products. The strategy should be based on the life cycle of the workloads, the data or information protection requirements, and the goals for those workloads. For each service, define the strategic value and operational flexibility that outlines the suitability for a particular cloud service model.

Additionally, agencies should define their profile to achieve project goals. Develop and use ROI metrics that include a timeframe, and ensure actions are incorporated when thresholds are achieved or exceeded. Finally, minimum quarterly reviews should be scheduled to evaluate strategic targets and include introduction of governance model for managing costs.

4. Identify IT challenges of existing framework

Services and workloads should be examined carefully and mapped against a number of challenges, including security, lack of IT transparency, mobile-readiness, costs and concerns about performance and availability. These issues create a complex set of requirements and organizational challenges that must be documented prior to the jump to the cloud, so that informed decisions can be made when evaluating public, private and hybrid cloud offerings.

5. Engage on modify, net-new and cloud architecture analysis

For this phase the project sponsor and IT staff will identify the specific applications or workloads from the enterprise portfolio that will be migrated to cloud services. The team will engage in working meetings to discuss the key areas of business and operational risk that the select applications represent.

Analysis is critical as agencies continue to move beyond a single cloud infrastructure and evaluate usage of public, private and hybrid clouds. Public clouds tempt agencies with cost savings through “pay-as-you-go” pricing and flexibility to scale up and down, while private clouds allow the agency to more directly control data and infrastructure, along with more security assurance. Private clouds offer the ability for agencies to retain more control internally over their most sensitive asset – data.

Agencies seeking balance between scalability and security will gravitate toward public compute and the use of public networks and servers – a hybrid cloud arrangement that allows agencies to maintain control of their data while maximizing cloud-computing economics. Federal IT providers are increasingly delivering solutions that allow agencies to maintain stewardship of their data while safely and cost-effectively consuming cloud services, and for that reason hybrid clouds are an increasingly attractive option for agencies.

With agency budgets top of mind, it is important for decision makers to take a hard look at how to cost-effectively re-architect existing IT systems for maximum performance and efficiency.

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