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5/21/2014
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Cloud Migration: Harder Than It Looks

Federal IT leaders say moving email and human resources applications to the cloud is not easy but claim their efforts have been successful.

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Dawn Leaf, deputy CIO at the Labor Department, likens the department's migration of email and human resources applications to the cloud to Charles Dickens's famous opening line in A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

"It's a little melodramatic to compare moving to a cloud services model or a federal shared services model to the French Revolution," she conceded, "but I do think there is a certain analogy, in the sense that there is definitely an upheaval, if not a revolution.

"Intuitively we would all think that moving to commercially provided services or federal shared services would be easier," Leaf continued, speaking at the FOSE government technology conference last week. "I would argue that, based on our experience over the last 18 months or so at DOL, this is not necessarily the case. There are some things that are easier; there are some things that are harder."

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DOL recently moved two legacy systems to different clouds: Email for 17,000 workers at offices around the nation was migrated to Microsoft 365 for Government's federal community cloud; and a time-and-attendance human resources application was relocated to a federal shared-services model hosted by the Treasury Department.

Leaf said both migrations have been successful, but not without some hurdles along the way.

(Image: Wikimedia commons)
(Image: Wikimedia commons)

Leaf and Robert Owens, CIO in the Office of the Inspector General at the Health and Human Services Department, both strongly contend that enterprise readiness is a major factor in reducing complications on the road to a successful cloud migration. Owens, who also spoke at FOSE, and his team in the OIG office of IT are also leading an OIG cloud email move to Microsoft 365 for Government. Their move is about 60% complete.

"One of the things that we found with cloud email is that the real work was in getting the environment ready to connect," Leaf said. "We found we had over 150 inconsistencies in office infrastructures that we had to clean up before we could even move to the platform to access Microsoft 365."

Another infrastructure hurdle for DOL was bandwidth. "You need bandwidth to get to anything outside," Leaf pointed out. "We needed to quadruple our bandwidth, and that's not something that happens overnight. We had 530 circuits that we had to upgrade."

Owens added, "People talk about cloud solutions, and you might think they are easy. They are not easy. That was a lesson we learned. You have to be enterprise-ready. You're taking an enterprise-ready solution and plugging into your environment, and where there are deficiencies, you're going to find out quickly."

Being enterprise-ready, he explained, means having strong policies and procedures, a stout configuration and change management program, and a robust network. "You need these in place before you can be successful in any of the solutions you pick for the cloud."

To ensure enterprise readiness, the HHS OIG team performed

Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., area who has been covering issues and trends in government technology for more than 15 years. View Full Bio

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Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
5/28/2014 | 11:47:11 AM
Re: Moving to the cloud, if you can get there, ends customizations
Exactly.  The fear of killing off legacy systems, or users reluctant to use new systems negate many of the benefits of moving to the cloud in the first place.  Fear of outages, complexity and changing the nature of workers, especially those who have been using older systems for many years, not only hinder the adoption of these new services, but pose a risk for IT teams who are dealing with managing the migration of data to the newer services.  
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 6:34:27 PM
Re: Moving to the cloud, if you can get there, ends customizations
You're right, Charlie. In addition: One of the big failures in federal IT investment management has been the lack of follow through to kill legacy systems, once their replacement(s) is up and running. I suspect that's in part because the old systems are so cobbled together, no one knows for sure what they'll lose by switiching over to the cloud (which gives IT managers more leverage to hold onto their unique systems.)

 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2014 | 7:29:38 PM
Moving to the cloud, if you can get there, ends customizations
Owens of the Office of Inspector General at Health and Human Services hits the nail on the head. You can't begin to phase out legacy systems and reap the benefit of simplified, standard operations until you've discovered just how unstandard you've become. Every fiefdom knows what it wants, and what it wants is something different. If you can get to the cloud, moving there will end the constant process of customized systems.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
5/21/2014 | 5:07:04 PM
Spinup
When I used to edit product reviews at Network Computing, I discouraged reviewers from dinging products for installation and setup difficulties. Unless the effort was truly hellish, that was a very small part of the scoring -- for the simple reason that (for the most part) you do it only once. IT teams should live with a new model for a year or so, six months at minimum, to let memories of the spinup fade and a balanced picture emerge before rendering judgement.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
5/21/2014 | 1:03:27 PM
Value
Any cloud migration project can be challenging, but the benefits of moving to more modern and efficient systems can be enormous. 

I think that the biggest issue to deal with might be change management. That portion of a migraton can take the longest to complete, as that portion often goes on for many months or years afterward. Sometimes government can be slow to change, and as a result these things take a lot of time. 

But it is usually worth it. 
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