Agencies eye more mature uses of cloud


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When it comes to cloud migration, agencies are starting to look at ways to use cloud beyond increasing productivity, one expert told FedScoop.

At the Housing and Urban Development Department, for example, the end goal is to have a machine learning capability that can generate predictive analytics from its data sets as the agency moves to Microsoft’s Azure cloud, HUD Chief Technology Officer Mark Hayes said Tuesday.

But getting there is going to take some time, he noted Tuesday at Microsoft’s Government Cloud Forum in Washington.

He said the department has looked at data lakes and Azure’s Data Factory, but it is waiting to see it mature to assess if it can reach back to some of the agency’s on-premises data sets, Hayes said.

So far the agency’s efforts to move to the cloud have been successful, Hayes said.

“One of the key things that drove us was agility. We needed something to be able to react quickly and to move faster,” he said. “We’re moving at a faster pace than we ever have before.”

Jason Zander, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure, told FedScoop, “I think that a lot of ways that people actually enter the cloud is to start out with things like productivity — it’s Office 365, so I stop worrying about my mailbox, just let it actually run. When you think about the IT side, you think about DevTest in the cloud.”

He added: “I think getting into the predictive analytics, the machine learning and the kind of data crunching, that’s absolutely the next place to go.”

Agencies are in the early phases of this, Zander said, as many are still trying to work out issues around data management.

“A lot of agencies have a significant amount of data already, and so even being able to manage that data and figure out, you know, how do I move it into the cloud how do I manage the content that’s there? That’s of course the first place to start,” he said.

A lot of agencies Zander has talked to are trying to figure out how much data they can keep from a storage and cost perspective.

Zander said agencies are realizing “the cloud brings new capabilities.”

“How do I adapt what I have into the cloud so I can take advantage of those new capabilities? And a lot agencies I see are kind of at that stage, trying to figure that piece out,” he said.

Another crucial element to modernization and moving toward the cloud is a focus on platform-as-a-service offerings, instead of infrastructure-as-a-service or software-as-a-service, panelists said Tuesday at the forum.

“Going to the PaaS is really where I think IT modernization is getting most important here. I mean that’s the sweet spot here for the modernization efforts that are out there,” said Susie Adams, chief technology officer for federal at Microsoft.

Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program Director Matt Goodrich said that while SaaS solutions are usually the easiest to put in place and see a return on investment, and other agencies use IaaS to do lift-and-shift, PaaS is enabling bigger changes in agency IT.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is a lot of lift-and-shift and sort of moving over, but platform is really what’s enabling agencies to actually — you’re talking about the Data Center Optimization Initiative — optimize your applications and figuring out ways to better find what their mission need applications are,” Goodrich said. “Just because you have an application and you can lift it and shift it over to an infrastructure doesn’t mean it’s going to work better or it’s going to be cheaper or you’re going to have better access to it.”

Hayes said HUD is trying to move away from commodity IT toward mission-driven IT, an effort he says is powered by looking specifically for PaaS-based offerings.

“The PaaS offerings give us the opportunity to focus on that mission and the business requirements instead of worrying about configuring servers, making sure all of the parts are integrated,” he said.

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Cloud, Microsoft, Microsoft Azure, Tech