For the last 7 years, federal agencies have been charged with a mission to consolidate data centers and to move data and apps to the cloud. While there have been numerous conferences, white papers, and discussions on the value of a cloud-first approach and several scorecards that have shown progress, or lack there of in the data center consolidation activities of agencies, most agencies still have a long way to go on their journey to the cloud.

At the 4th Annual  NetApp and MeriTalk Cloud Connect conference, government IT leaders, including Walter Bigelow, division chief at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Dominic Sale, deputy associate administrator for information integrity and access at the General Services administration shared their thoughts on some of the obstacles that stand in the way of cloud adoption.

For Bigelow, whose agency is moving steadily towards a hybrid cloud model, said that buy in from the most senior levels of the agency down had helped move the process forward.  He also noted that ATF had chosen a “relatively unique hybrid model” in order to retain control of critical elements and be able to leverage the economies of open source information and public cloud infrastructure.

Bigelow said ATF uses several clouds. “Why pay a 15% premium for GovCloud for a public-facing app?” he said. “Public cloud has good enough security.”

GSA’s Sale agreed that a concern of cloud security is no longer a top of mind concern when compared to other challenges that agencies are facing. “There’s a lot of analysis paralysis” over all the different flavors of cloud – software as a service, platform as a service, infrastructure as a service, and so on, he said. “Hit the easiest stuff and just go up the chain.”

While these federal leaders have bought into the cloud-first model Mark Bregman, NetApp’s CTO cautioned that data centers are still a vital part of an agency’s data management infrastructure.

“I think we’ll have data centers for all of our lifetime,” Bregman said. “They will be different. They may not be as big or as central to the organization [however] there’s going to be a need for a combination of these elements.”

Bergman compared the decision about which combination of data management solutions to use to the decision as to whether to lease or buy a car. Just like it makes sense for some people to lease a car, rather than own, each agency needs to make that decision based on their unique circumstances and what makes most sense financially.

Just as the optimized cloud model has evolved to be a hybrid of public and private storage, the next generation of data centers will be very different from the traditional data center. Next generation data centers (NGDC) will deliver the scalability and availability that agencies need to respond to critical events and deliver on the mission.

Bregman noted that from a highly flexible architecture to the seamless integration and support of existing infrastructure, NGDCs are the essential behind the scenes support team for cloud-driven organizations, like ATF and other government agencies.

At the end of the morning’s conversation it was clear was that there is no one single approach to data management that will fit the needs of each government agency in an era where the mission is essentially data-driven.  While all agencies share a focus on cost management and best in class data security, they will each take a different approach to building and managing that infrastructure.

However, in order to be prepared for what comes next – most likely AI and Machine Learning – agencies should look to invest in a data management infrastructure that can scale and adapt seamlessly so they can continue to focus on the mission.

Want to learn more about how to thrive in a data-driven world? Download this guide for visionaries.