Ensuring Secure Data Center Migration Through VMC GovCloud

The U.S. government is undergoing transformative changes in digital infrastructure and internal data networks. 

From smarter cloud services to stricter software mandates in the face of rising data breaches, the playing field is rapidly changing for federal agencies. Many bureaus will need to tap into more advanced digital platforms in the near future, as the clock winds down on their legacy data systems.

Thousands of attendees across the public and private sectors gathered in-person in San Francisco and online at VMware Explore 2022 to share their insights and learn from each other’s unique journeys. 

During our fireside chat “Data Center Migration to VMC on GovCloud,” three experts in federal government technology services discussed today’s biggest challenges and best practices with application migration from on-site data centers to the cloud.

U.S. Marshals Service Chief Technology Officer Christine Finnelle and her contract partner BAE Systems, Inc. Tech Director Dwayne Levermore sat down with VMware Senior Director Jay Bokulic to talk about their firsthand experiences in moving entire agency data networks to the cloud.

The U.S. Marshals Service — our country’s oldest and most expansive federal law enforcement arm — is tasked with ensuring the integrity of our federal judiciary system under the Justice Department. With that comes courthouse and facility protection, the safety of judges and court personnel, the apprehension and transfer of federal prisoners, as well as criminal investigations and the seizure and forfeiture of illegal assets.

“To be successful at those mission requirements, the Marshals Service has a high demand on their IT infrastructure [to account for] agility, flexibility, and cost effectiveness,” Bokulic noted.

To put today’s federal bureau tech needs in better perspective, Finnelle and Levermore shared their insights on finding new solutions though VMware Cloud on AWS GovCloud, a secure cloud platform for government agencies.

Here are some of the highlights from our fireside chat on the evolving digital landscape for federal agencies:

Building Better Security and Oversight in the Cloud

Even before the pandemic pushed government agencies to update their digital infrastructure, the Marshals Service realized it needed to find a highly trusted data migration option that would offer more control. Finnelle noted that a driving factor in the decision to move from on-site data centers to VMware’s GovCloud platform was the added layers of security and oversight it provided. That assurance was essential to protecting law enforcement sensitive data and personally identifiable information, she said. BAE Systems’ Levermore has been working closely with Finnelle and her team on the Marshals Service’s cloud migration strategy. “As I’m sure you see in the news, all of the data with body-worn cameras and everything that’s being held for the police and marshals in the field — we cannot delete that,” Levermore said. “In a data center structure, you’re only going to grow as much as your storage is going to hold. We needed to build a more flexible [structure].” Finnelle added that the move to the cloud has also helped simplify internal operational and training efforts for her bureau.

Cutting Down on Time, Labor, and Cost Burdens

Another big impetus for the Marshals Service was the need to find a sustainable long-term solution as the agency was facing “an end-of-life-cycle” hardware scenario in 2019, Finnelle said. She and her department needed to move data from a center in Idaho to a new secure platform and the clock was ticking. The VMC option allowed the Marshals Service to take sensitive information from the Idaho data center that was closing within six weeks and lift and shift everything to the cloud. Migrating from “hardware to hardware” would typically take the agency two years, Finnelle noted. “It wasn’t just the cost avoidance, it was the labor [considerations],” she said. Of course, moving tons of sensitive data to the cloud doesn’t come easy. “You have to move towards the future with the resources that you have,” Finnelle said. “It was a huge success for us to be able to move so quickly and get our services up to the cloud.” When it came to sizing the agency’s cloud needs, she and her colleagues looked “not just at what do we need, but when do we need it?” The Marshals Service is now moving out of its final data center and plans to be “fully cloud in the next 12 to 18 months,” Finnelle said.

Creating Greater Flexibility Through VMC

Moving to the cloud gave the Marshals Service “modernization and performance enhancements and additional scalability that we just didn’t have,” Finnelle said. In addition to the VMware Cloud platform on Amazon Web Services, the federal law enforcement agency utilizes cloud services provided by other tech companies. The Marshals Service had also begun its own native cloud migration, but “that takes a lot of time,” Finnelle said. There are always baseline reconfigurations that need to occur when swapping software service providers and the agency’s IT teams had already been working in a VMware-centric environment, she added. The VMC offering allowed her bureau “to cut down on overhead” and “avoid vendor lock-in.” With finite resources that was paramount, Finnelle maintained. Levermore echoed that sentiment, noting that the Marshals Service needed to remain “cloud agnostic and address things on our terms — not what’s best for the vendor at the time.” With that came new challenges for the agency’s top-notch cybersecurity team, which needed to ensure that they were building in security from the start. Overcoming trust concerns led to clear and tangible benefits, Finnelle and Levermore said.

Surmounting Internal Kinks and Adoption Hurdles

Despite the relatively clear path to the cloud, adoption issues created some internal roadblocks. Levermore said that working under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) presented distinct challenges, including certification and security requirements. Finnelle said one of the biggest issues her department had to address was with management. “We had to help them understand that optimized infrastructure is what makes their mission successful,” she said. “Thirty or forty years ago you could do it without technology. Not today.” Levermore added that relaying that message to stakeholders took careful steps to make sure everyone understood the changes involved. Coordination was key when it came to strategic planning around adopting documentation and other internal procedures to the technology changes. “We wanted to make sure that as we moved applications, we did it with the developers, the application owners, and the back-end systems in mind,” Levermore said. It was also essential for the Marshals Service to make sure all of the data that needed to be moved was of critical importance, he noted. “One of the biggest wins was the reduced stress because of the reduced complexity,” Finnelle quipped.


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