Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

Hybrid model key to the future of cloud

The conversation about cloud models is beginning to change, and for the better.

In the early days of cloud, much of the early debate focused on the different merits of two cloud models, public and private, and in which situations it would be better to use one or the other.

There’s a growing realization, however, that in many cases the best scenario for cloud in government will be one in which agencies have the best of both worlds, with the ability to use either model as circumstances dictate and to manage both models as a seamless whole.

The best scenario is the hybrid cloud, which combines a variety of infrastructure with a cloud services model. That might include a colocation-based solution, a managed solution or an on-premise solution.

The key is portability. In a traditional cloud environment, an agency might deploy some applications and datasets in a private cloud while using a public cloud service for others —but it won’t have the ability to migrate applications from one setting to the other. The enterprise, essentially, is split.

A true hybrid environment, on the other hand, provides IT managers the ability “to extend the enterprise from on-premise to publicly hosted cloud systems,” said Jad El-Zein, a principal engineer at VMware.

But portability is only half the equation. In extending the enterprise, an agency also wants to extend the management tools and security controls, to ensure that applications and data are managed effectively no matter where they reside.

As part of that, IT managers should not have to log in to one console to view applications hosted on premise and another console to view applications in a multi-tenant or public cloud. Instead, they should have “a single pane of glass,” said El-Zein.

A hybrid cloud environment has a number of advantages. First, it scales more quickly than a traditional cloud environment, whether that involves expanding capacity for an existing application or launching a new service. Rather than requiring weeks to get new capacity, a hybrid cloud can be scaled in a matter of minutes.

Second, it costs less to scale up. Agencies typically must buy hardware and software based on anticipated demands, which means costly capacity might go unused for some time. With a hybrid cloud, an IT manager can scale up as needed.

Additionally, a hybrid environment provides another option for disaster recovery and continuity of operations planning. In fact, VMware offers a disaster-as-a-service option for smaller organizations that need a cost-effective solution for protecting its workload.

VMware is offering vCloud Government Service through Carpathia. vCloud Government Service is based on VMware vSphere, which is widely used across government. vCloud Government Service, provided by Carpathia, is a hybrid cloud solution that meets a broad range of regulations, standards and best practices, including FedRAMP.

“In the vCloud Government Service provided by Carpathia platform, we expect to see on-premise vSphere environments connected to vCloud Government Service taking advantage of the binary compatibility of VMware’s products,” said Jon Greaves, Chief Scientist and Chief Information Security Officer at Carpathia Inc.

So far, the hybrid cloud represents only a fraction of the cloud solutions being used by agencies. A governmentwide survey by Accenture in 2013 found hybrid clouds made up just 10 percent of the mix, with private clouds by far the leader at 23 percent.

But that is likely to change, given the advantages of the hybrid cloud. The team running the Benefits.gov web site, for example, chose a hybrid cloud solution to help it with its job of providing a large range of benefits to U.S. citizens.

A collaborative effort of 17 federal agencies, Benefits.gov is one of the oldest web sites in the government. But its legacy, on-premise web hosting infrastructure eventually became too slow to keep up with ever expanding requirements and the surges in demand associated with events such as natural disasters.

Using a hybrid cloud provided by the Department of Agriculture’s National Information Technology Center (NITC), the site can now accommodate over 500,000 monthly visits, and maintains close to 100 percent up time.