3 myths about moving to the cloud and how to think about them

U.S. State Department cloud director Brian Merrick and Splunk’s chief public sector strategy advisor Juliana Vida discuss how to address common misperceptions about cloud migrations.
(Getty Images)

When the federal government issued its “Cloud First” policy more than a decade ago, the virtues of virtualized infrastructure were full of promise. The strategy promised a path forward for agencies to migrate to a safer, more secure and more economical IT operating environment. What wasn’t promised was the notion that the journey would be easy.

Over the course of the last 10 years, as agencies threw themselves into cloud modernization projects, three myths evolved that continue to weigh down assumptions about moving to the cloud, according to two experts who spoke at a recent SNG Cloud Live Event. And while agencies have come a long way in understanding what’s required in standing up cloud services, understanding these myths — and how to think about them — are essential to the long-term success of any agency cloud initiative.

Myth 1: Cloud is cheaper

Brian Merrick, Director of Cloud Programs at the Department of State, said one of the biggest myths surrounding cloud migrations is that they are all, somehow, cheaper and automatically result in immediate cost savings.

“That’s not totally the case,” Merrick said. “You have to look at it in the totality of your operation. You end up spending more because you’re doing more with the cloud. It gives you great opportunities to do a lot of functionality, and you’re going to end up finding more to do with it. And that’s going to bring with it a cost,” he said.

Juliana Vida, Group Vice President and Chief Strategy Advisor for public sector at Splunk, and former deputy CIO at the Pentagon, agreed that there are costs agencies must be prepared for, but said those costs can be offset by new efficiencies.

“I think the key is to set expectations accurately from the beginning and not position cloud investments or IT modernization as initial cost savings — just so that other stakeholders don’t think that it’s a really quick solution to a complicated problem and it’s going to drive cost savings right away,” Vida said.

The same thing is true with legacy IT modernization, according to Vida. Eventually, every agency realizes that IT modernization projects involve ripping out old infrastructure. “It’s worth the investment, you just have to know upfront that you’re not going to be saving dollars right out of the gate,” she said.

Myth 2: Cloud is easy

For years, agencies have been sold on the myth that moving to the cloud is going to simplify IT — and lead to a single pane of glass to manage an entire IT environment.

“The reality is, it’s just too complex for that in most use cases, especially if you have a multi cloud environment,” Merrick said.

Many agencies turn to SaaS tools and other cloud platforms to speed up their modernization journey without necessarily having to invest right away in cleaning up the entire back end. But sometimes they don’t have enough money to do that upfront. And that’s an eye-opener, said Merrick.

“So they’re looking for that hybrid approach to sort of plug the gap until they can get there with their process evolution. But it’s a lot more complex on the architecture side and the policy side, when you think about it,” Merrick said. “Our traditional network folks have spent their careers trying to keep the cloud out or keep things from leaving the environment when you’re saying, open it up. And that’s definitely a challenge for policy folks who have to work through good security strategies to do that.”

The good news is that cloud technologies have evolved significantly over just the last few years in terms of inherent cybersecurity capabilities, inherent openness and agility and scalability, said Splunk’s Vida.

“So technology isn’t the problem. There’s no lack of very good, scalable, agile technology that the government can use,” she said. “But again, it’s not a one stop shop, and it’s not out of the box. You’re going to get exactly what you need, generally, and setting that expectation upfront is really important.”

“The key,” she added, “is to actually get into conversations with your vendor partners, or your integrator partners, and figure out what works best for you in terms of the technology that will help you tap into and optimize the other products that you have.”

Myth 3: You’re the only agency facing a talent shortage

The IT talent shortage is all too real. But sometimes it can feel like only your organization is having trouble finding enough workers to fill critical IT jobs.

Merrick and Vida both agreed, however, that all organizations are going through the challenges of finding enough skilled workers.

“I think that in the public sector, a lot of agencies and a lot of leaders feel that they’re the only ones that have a talent problem or have a struggle with getting talent,” said Vida. “But that’s not necessarily true. We are all fighting for talent, we in industry, government agencies, nonprofits, and we do better when we do it together.”

But fresh talent doesn’t only exist outside an organization, Vida said. “I think we often forget about the upskilling of existing talent, as opposed to just grabbing new talent and bringing it in. All those skills don’t have to come from newly graduated college students. There are a lot of people in the federal government and other state local governments who want to be doing public service and they’ve been doing it for a long time. Now’s the opportunity to tap into those folks that have a heart for the mission, and that want to really be contributing to the missions of the government and teach them new things and let them be excited about work again.”

View the full on-demand discussion (Panel 6) with Brian Merrick and Juliana Vida. And learn more about how Splunk is helping government modernize their IT environments and strengthen their zero-trust architecture.

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