DHS cloud push comes with complications

A pressing data center closure schedule and an ensuing scramble to move applications means that some Homeland Security components might need more than one hop to get to the cloud.

cloud migration
 

The Department of Homeland Security wants to make a big play for the cloud, but the moves are creating some ripple effects within its legacy IT environment and two of its biggest data centers.

DHS is in the midst of a major overhaul, using the pending expiration of contracts for two of its primary data centers in Mississippi and Virginia -- frequently referred to as Data Centers One and Two -- to consolidate and modernize the software systems hosted there.

A DHS official told FCW in February that the department planned to eventually close the Virginia data center (DC 2) after migrating many of its 153 systems and 8,000 devices to the Mississippi location (DC 1).

Carlene Ileto, executive director of the Infrastructure Service Division at DHS, told FCW that while that's still the plan over the long term, some older software systems at the Virginia location may not be cloud-ready when the vendor contract expires in June 2020. That presents DHS with the challenge of finding a new home for every DC 2 system and application before the data center is closed.

Perspecta is the vendor operating Enterprise Data Center 2.

"One of the things that was really key for us is to figure out, of the 153 systems, which ones are ready to be moved to the cloud? And what we found was many of our systems were not really IT modernized to do that," Ileto told FCW following a Sept. 17 appearance at the American Council for Technology Industry Advisory Council.

Some systems are set to migrate to DC 1, while others may be moved to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center in Virginia. Another possibility: some secondary systems may continue running out of DC 2 past the 2020 deadline as backups for disaster-recovery purposes or until they're ready for larger migration activities.

"We're trying to get all of our systems and components out of Data Center 2, but if we don't meet that timeline of June 2020, they're going to have to stay … or go to another data center, and that's where we're struggling, trying to figure out where they need to go," said Illeto.

Jaclyn Rubino, acting executive director of the Strategic Program Division at DHS, said that for larger components of the project, like the re-bid for DC 1, cloud solution providers and other capabilities will likely be broken off into distinct procurements. The department also doesn't want to get locked into a single provider or solution.

"Over time we're not seeing ourselves in a position where we're wed to one particular cloud and the price continues to rise, so [we're] looking at the flexibilities, looking at potentially the portability of different applications we have from one cloud to another and where does it truly make sense?"

Underlying all this is an IT modernization play. Since some applications don't need to move to the cloud, the larger move is about reshaping the agency's IT assets -- cloud or not -- to fit the modern era. Officials have said they're "committed" to a hybrid IT model and will "always have a data center."

The push will touch systems and operations for more than a dozen component agencies within DHS, some of which have communicated modernization plans that aren't cloud-ready until 2021 or later. That has created a need for bridge contracts, temporary arrangements and unforeseen budget needs that must be worked out in the interim.

"All of this is a churn for the 14 components that we are working with right now and making sure they have funding to be able to move forward, whether they have to generate contracts, whether they have to make deals with … other data centers, whatever the case may be," said Illeto. "So they have choices, it's just that it may not be as feasible as they would like and … the transition may not be as easy. They may have to take more than one hop to get them to the cloud."

Clarification: This article was changed Oct. 3 to update the name of the vendor operating DHS Enterprise Data Center 2 from HP to Perspecta, which was established in 2018 out of the combination of multiple technology companies, including assets once belonging to HP Enterprise.  

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