Agencies prep for cloud complexity

Federal agencies are still in the early stages of moving their operations to the cloud, but they already recognize that any such move might require some upgrades to their network infrastructure.

A survey of 251 federal, state and local government IT professionals found that only 5 percent of respondents reported that their agencies had fully transitioned applications to the cloud. But another 13 percent said transitions were under way, and 46 percent said their agencies had plans in place or were studying the possibility.

Those agencies are considering a wide range of options for upgrading their network infrastructure. Some are looking at cloud-specific network management applications, while others are in the market for intelligent monitoring tools. Wide-area network optimization appliances are also attracting a lot of interest (see figure 1).

Figure 1


The options are many, but the goal is the same: Do not let the complexity of the cloud environment create a drag on application performance.

Cloud-based systems, whether public or private, “are often black holes to traditional network monitoring tools,” said Jim Rapoza, senior research analyst for networking and application performance at the Aberdeen Group, a market research and consulting firm.

“So modernization is important both to deal with the new distributed application architecture that cloud brings and to ensure that your networking tools have visibility into and can manage cloud and virtualized systems,” he said.

And just in case anyone is tempted to dismiss such talk as mere marketing hype, IDC, a market research and consulting firm, reports that the adoption of cloud computing helped fuel a surprising surge in network spending in early 2012.

“The positive market performance in the first quarter of 2012 speaks well to the network infrastructure needs of enterprise IT as it embraces cloud technologies,” said Rohit Mehra, director of enterprise communications infrastructure at IDC.

Given the limited deployment of cloud-based applications, most agencies probably are not feeling pressured to upgrade their network infrastructure. Despite the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed “cloud first” policy, for example, studies find that most federal agencies continue to take a cautious approach.

That’s the story at government agencies at all levels, according to a December 2012 report by IDC Government Insights. Although government employees “realize cloud solutions are becoming important for IT strategy,” IDC reports, “many are still evaluating what cloud solutions will specifically mean to them and their organization.”

The Federal Aviation Administration is a good example. The agency has developed a strategy for migrating applications to the cloud. But the strategy comes with a big question mark when it comes to the mission-critical applications that support the National Airspace System.

Moving applications to the Internet has its advantages, but “it also presents a critical challenge, especially for systems like the NAS with real-time and strict performance requirements,” the strategy states. “At the present, there is a lack of understanding and information on how NAS systems can perform in a public cloud computing environment.”

Among those agencies that are making the move to the cloud, the survey found interest in a wide array of possible solutions. In the area of infrastructure as a service, cloud-based storage was the most popular, with 33 percent of respondents saying their agencies have adopted it and another 14 percent considering it, followed closely by backup and recovery applications, at 30 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

In the area of platform as a service, the leading application is database software (26 percent adoption), while in software as a service (SaaS) both document management (26 percent) and content management (24 percent) are strong players (see figure 2).

Figure 2


Across IT markets as a whole, SaaS is likely to grab the largest share of cloud-related spending over the next five years, according to IDC.

However, despite becoming more commonplace, the adoption of SaaS should not be treated as a simple proposition, writes Bill Pray, a Gartner analyst who focuses on collaboration and content strategies.

Before moving from an in-house application to a cloud-based version, organizations need to understand exactly what they are getting — and what they might be losing. For example, they must identify the mission-critical features of their existing application. They also need to understand the existing process and how that might be affected by the switch.

“Enterprises must develop their own set of core requirements based on their intended use and needs for the applications,” Pray wrote on the Gartner Blog Network.

Methodology and survey demographics

Between Oct. 31 and Nov. 12, 2012, 251 subscribers of FCW, GCN and other 1105 Government Information Group publications responded to an e-mail survey about the status of their network transformation and modernization initiatives. Only respondents who were involved with network operations at government agencies were included in the survey. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Eight out of 10 respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 17 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 64 percent came from the federal government (36 percent civilian, 28 percent defense) and 36 percent from state or local government agencies.

About this report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Government Information Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Government Information Group Content Solutions, please e-mail us at [email protected].