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State Department, VA are Accelerating the Move to Hybrid Cloud

Cloud leaders address how they’re transitioning to hybrid cloud environments.

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Photo Credit: Dmitry Makeev / CC BY-SA 4.0

The departments of State and Veterans Affairs are transforming data management strategies as they adopt hybrid cloud models.

“Hybrid to me means using more than one type of solution. So, whether it be two different cloud service providers (CSPs), or CSP and on-prem, or CSP and a SaaS, or some combination of several,” said Dave Catanoso, VA’s acting director of application hosting, cloud and edge solutions, during an ATARC event. “Multicloud is leveraging more than one CSP to solve problems, whether it’s CSPs in our enterprise cloud or in combination with our SaaS providers.”

Agencies are aligning operating structures to better support modernization journeys. Catanoso said VA is developing a new construct to expand the Enterprise Cloud Solutions Office. The unit will combine VA’s cloud, on-prem and platform efforts to improve the organizational structure, provide better customer service and enhance service delivery to veterans.

Brian Merrick, director of the State Department’s Cloud Program Management Office, said that in a transition to cloud, leaders should focus on three key aspects: people, policy and technology.

Organizational change is key to successful cloud adoption. Since VA began its migration in 2018, the agency has relied heavily on change management and collaboration to ensure its workforce has access to the right training, the agency takes a unified approach to modernization and promote engagement.

“It’s not a technology problem, it’s a people issue, and it’s really a change management effort,” Merrick said. “We’re figuring out how we provide scalable, shared infrastructure services so that we can abstract away some of the infrastructure pain from the business areas and [the workforce] can get to work faster and leverage the benefits of cloud while still maintaining control over their environments and their delivery to their customers.”

As the data ecosystem only gets more complex, the State Department is working to recruit talent that is capable of advanced data analytics, as well as driving policies that accelerate data sharing to effectively manage datasets. On the technical side, State is leveraging innovative tools like application programming interfaces (APIs) to make data more accessible.

“It starts first with having clean application for data capture with … data tables that you know need to be consistent with automated hard stops to enforce that data entry so that you have clean datasets to begin with,” Merrick said. “Then, having a solid API management approach to be able to share that data to a data lake, and then having the right tools available for the actual analytics and the data visualization for decision support has been really critical and we’re continuing to see that evolve across our space.”

Currently, VA is at the beginning of its journey toward an enterprise, common data plane, with the goal of enabling the agency to share data across applications more cohesively, Catanoso said. Most of VA’s solutions are more mission driven, supporting different priorities like Electronic Health Record Modernization, financial management, benefits and memorials. Because of this structure, a lot of VA’s data resides in specific mission sets and have different compliance, portability, shareability and retention requirements.

“We’re juggling that with how we leverage the cloud technologies that were brought to bear with our on-prem capability to come up with these common tools,” Catanoso said. “Now we’re starting to look at data-loss prevention across the enterprise … we’re still looking at how we’re going to solve that across multiple business sets.”

As VA and the State Department accelerate their transition to cloud, the agencies will gain greater flexibility, agility, speed of delivery, scalability and access to modern tools.

“What we ended up seeing, the best of all worlds from a hybrid standpoint, is leveraging the data on-prem and holding that core dataset and then using a PaaS and SaaS solutions for the data capture and the workflow piece of it. Then, doing the analytics with an IaaS or PaaS type environment, where you can really leverage the speed and scalability and elasticity of cloud to meet those different needs,” Merrick said.

Security and policy also must evolve at the speed of emerging technology and of the mission. Both State and VA are amidst a move to a zero trust architecture to better protect data — aligning with President Biden’s cybersecurity executive order. VA is taking a multi-factor approach, leveraging encryption and implementing TIC 3.0 to “defend data,” Catanoso said.

As for State, “We have a long way to go, but I think that’s going to be the future — really looking at how do we protect [data] from a holistic standpoint, really focusing on where that data is living and providing that defensive depth to the data itself,” Merrick said.

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