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Life With the Cloud

State and local technology leaders discuss their organizations’ work and offer best practices for migrating to the cloud.

An outline of a cloud in light blue against light blue dots connected by lines like a circuit board, also in light blue. Black background.
Some tech trends move fast, peak quickly and become part of the collective IT landscape in the rearview mirror. Others have staying power, whether through their exceptional design and performance, difficulty level, time to implement, or degree of relevance.

Cloud — and, generally, the idea of potentially moving aspects of an organization off the premises to the cloud — is very much in the latter camp. It’s been a topic of considerable discussion and debate for most of a decade and this seems unlikely to change. That’s partly because many governments may not be fully migrated to the cloud — but also because after years of migrating to the cloud, working in the cloud and living through historic times like the recent COVID-19 pandemic, experience has taught state and local technology leaders that the cloud is a great place but it may not always be the right place.

Every organization’s need for the cloud, its journey to the cloud, and its time in the cloud is different — as it should be. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all blueprint for making the best use of the cloud, but state and local tech chiefs offered Industry Insider — California several best practices for deciding what goes to the cloud and what stays on-prem:

  • Migrating to the cloud may seem ideal but in fact, it presents its own set of challenges. The process, said Catherine Lanzaro, Technology Services Division deputy director and chief information officer at the California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS), may seem to have the potential to solve all one’s problems and modernize legacy, next to a data center or on-prem solution. But government entities have relied upon the data center/on-prem business model for decades because “it is predictable, existing employees are well-trained and skilled in their jobs, and it works.” Moving to the cloud, Lanzaro said via email, presents a new level of security challenges that organizations may not be ready to face, and requires “in-house migration specialists to safeguard sensitive data during the high-risk migration process.” Post-care and security monitoring are also necessary afterward — tasks that the data center may have done previously. Staffing — “ensuring the right people with the right skills are ready and able to take on these challenges” — is essential; and cost must also be considered.
    “It is critical for government entities to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis to ensure the move to the cloud is cost effective, with a solid return on investment,” said Lanzaro, who recommended evaluating each application independently. “In many cases, you will not see instant savings when migrating to the cloud. Organizations should evaluate the cost to migrate in combination with future operating costs to ensure the move will generate a positive outcome in your budget and services.”
    The California Department of Technology (CDT) announced in June that it would sunset the CalCloud state private cloud service as of Dec. 31, Lanzaro said. CDT said last year that customers of the service would have to migrate — either to Managed Cloud Services or California Managed Cloud (both managed by CDT), or to an off-prem cloud service hosted by a vendor. During the past 12 months, Lanzaro said in late December, DCSS has decommissioned more than 45 servers in CalCloud, and is migrating one of its last services, Secure File Transfer process with interface partners. The department’s primary case management system, Child Support Enforcement, was hosted by CDT prior to its migration to the Microsoft Azure Government Cloud in 2021, the CIO said, calling CDT “a great partner to DCSS over the years” and “very supportive of our mission and public services.”
    Editor’s note: Find IICA’s coverage of Lanzaro’s remarks at a recent Member Briefing here and her One-on-One interview here.
  • Fundamentals and lifesavers may need to stay on-prem. Eudora Fleischman, IT infrastructure and security manager at the city of Fairfield, said a big initiative for her government this fiscal year ending June 30 is redesigning disaster recovery. It makes sense, Fleischman said, to keep “anything tied to lifesaving things” out of the cloud, adding: “If you’re cut off from it because of a massive earthquake and all your data, circuits are down, that’s a scary thing.” Fairfield is the seat of Solano County and it frequently partners with governments including the county and the city of Vacaville — working with the former on its emergency [Project 25] P25 911 system. Her organization, the IT infrastructure and security manager said, is also involved in the management of water treatment and distribution for Fairfield.
    “I think that, strategically, the way to go to the cloud is, you put your things that are not life-dependent things in the cloud,” Fleischman said, offering as examples of what to put in the cloud possibly a finance system, a [software as a service] SaaS-hosted environment, or an application signup for citizens. “Those are good opportunities to be in the cloud where it makes sense. But then also, what's your fallback if it's not there? If you can't get to it, then you want to make sure that you have connectivity for your employees to work from other locations. And be able to get to that SaaS-based cloud tenant. And have those things worked out.”
    Editor’s note: Find Fleischman’s One-on-One interview here.
  • Pulling items back out of the cloud could be the right idea if it would benefit the organization. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) is a cloud-first department and it has a discovery or intake process to help business partners assess how data might be moved to the cloud and whether that would be a benefit, its Chief Information Officer Chris Martinez told IICA. He noted that with legacy working, equipment updated and maintained, and code supported, governments could find it difficult to justify the business interruption of a move to cloud. “The last thing on my mind is to create an outage or to pick up technical debt just because I wanted to bring it to the cloud,” the CIO said. “But bringing it to the cloud may cause some issues for the next generation of technologists here at CAL FIRE.” Personal identifiable information (PII), he said, is an example of something that would never go to the cloud and always be maintained on-prem. And, he said: “I see the merit in wanting to pull back some cloud items. The question would be just, what is it and how will it benefit CAL FIRE before we make such a decision?” Martinez said that nothing has had to be pulled back from the cloud since he was named CIO in August.

Editor’s note: Find Martinez’s One-on-One interview here.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.