The idea of moving to the cloud has been a mainstay of federal agency IT plans for what seems like years.  Despite the prevalence of conversations, conference panels, and cloud migration plans, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done by federal agencies to start leveraging the power of the cloud.

According to Rob Stein, Vice President, US Public Sector at NetApp, the adoption of cloud-based storage and services varies widely between agencies.  “There are the early adopters and drivers of change, like the Federal Communications Commission,” Stein shared, “but there are also many agencies that are still trying to figure out what they should put in the cloud and how to deliver IT-as-a-Service within their organization.”

From Stein’s perspective, there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that agencies get the most out of their investment in the cloud.  “This is definitely not a criticism of federal IT leaders,” he commented.  “Federal agencies are large complex IT environments, often more complex than commercial environments and with so much sensitive data to protect it’s going to take time to figure out the best data migration and management strategy,” Stein continued.

Because of this complexity and sensitivity, Stein cautioned federal IT leaders to be wary of pitches that talk about moving to the cloud in broad terms. “Saying you can help an organization move to the cloud is a great soundbite, but the practicalities – how to manage data in the cloud for example — are far more complex,” Stein shared.  He advised those leading cloud migration and transformation projects to really dig into questions about how data is accessed, how data can be managed once it’s in the cloud, and how data is secured.

What happens if cloud migration isn’t well managed?  It typically recreates the stovepipes and data siloes that hamper on-premise storage environments and which mitigate the very advantages of moving to the cloud. The key to avoiding a flawed cloud migration for Stein starts with identifying what services the agency wants to deliver to constituents and working out where data is stored. Once those two essential pieces are taken care of, it’s possible to devise an effective data management solution that will bring the benefits of the cloud – agility, scalability, and accessibility — to fruition.

“The reality is that no government agency will put everything into the cloud,” said Stein.  A hybrid cloud strategy – involving the use of private and public clouds, as well as cloud-adjacent storage – will be the most likely set-up given the sensitivity of government data.  What type of data ends up in which environment all depends on individual agency’s governance and chain of custody requirements.

For Stein this necessary division means that high speed access to the cloud and the ability to move data between environments via a data fabric are essential parts of a cloud migration strategy.  “In the end, there’s no need for agencies to own the infrastructure – the servers and the storage –” he said, “that’s a heavy lift; what they should focus on is being able to control where their data goes and making certain it can be put to work to deliver on the mission.”