Using the Cloud to Modernize Legacy Government Systems

It’s been many years now since the U.S. government set out its “cloud first” policy. But many government organizations are struggling to migrate legacy systems to the cloud. That’s because government IT faces many unique challenges.

Unlike their corporate counterparts, government organizations can’t just walk away from something they support because it becomes too hard or unprofitable. They’re often mandated by legislation to keep older programs running. So government IT can tend to snowball, with legacy applications that have been around for years or even decades.

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Many government organizations are also finding that building their own private cloud is too time-consuming, costly, and difficult to maintain. So the recommendation continues to be to move to a large commercial cloud. The good news is that the security of public cloud vendors is getting so high that it often exceeds what a government agency could achieve on its own. So that’s at least one concern you can strike off the list.

Here are some of the key obstacles that government organizations face, along with recommendations from Gartner around how to solve.



How to solve

The application works well.

The legacy system works well and is easy to maintain, so it’s not worth replacing. It might be too risky to move it to the cloud.

Keep an eye on emerging vendor offerings. Consider an API strategy to get ready for a later migration.

It would be too expensive to re-host.

You could move the application to the cloud, but it will be harder to maintain the way it’s currently designed.

Prioritize legacy applications that are being depreciated, are no longer supported or are approaching end-of-life. Also, consider using cloud storage gateways to bridge between your data center and a public cloud.

It’s custom-made.

The application is custom, and there aren’t any commercial equivalents out there.

Keep an eye on emerging commercial and SaaS solutions. Hire or train people to build APIs, and use an integration engine to leave the existing system as a data repository.

You can’t prioritize funding.

Given other, more urgent demands on your IT resources, you lack enough capex or opex funding to migrate the application.

If you can’t make a strong enough business case for funding, keep it on-premises.

There’s a long-term mandate.

Per the law or regulations, you need to keep the system running, even if it’s no longer being used.

This is likely not a good candidate for the cloud. Instead, try running the application on a virtual machine on demand.

Security and privacy is super important.

It’s a mission-critical application that needs to stay extra secure and private. So there’s some concern about hosting it outside government control.

The security of cloud vendors these days is often much higher than government agencies can manage on their own. Research this and share evidence with your senior leaders. Look at options for hybrid and government clouds.

It connects to other systems.

The application is designed around specific networks or related systems. So putting it in the cloud would be technically impossible or too expensive.

Use techniques to overcome latency or performance issues. Keep watching for cloud-based alternatives as they are developed.

Your team lacks needed IT skills.

Many government agencies lack skills in legacy applications and cloud platforms alike.

Wrap the application with APIs or use other techniques to abstract the interface layer. Also consider partnering with an outside vendor who brings the needed skills, either in one-off projects or ongoing.

It’s a black box.

The legacy system is undocumented, and you might not even have access to the source code.

Consider completely redeveloping the system on a cloud platform.

Table adapted from Gartner (October 2017)

How Binary Tree can help

We can help you modernize some legacy systems by moving them to Microsoft. And we’ve worked with many federal, state, and local governments across the world to do just that. So we understand many of the unique considerations that come with these types of government projects.

We can help you:

  • Assess your software and systems and get them ready to migrate
  • Either do the migration for you or train you how to do it
  • Be on hand to fix any issues that come up during the migration
  • Drive user adoption through training and onboarding
  • Train your IT team to manage email and applications in the cloud

We often suggest that our government clients start by moving their email to Office 365. It’s a smaller effort that can help you work through any cultural or security concerns about the cloud. Microsoft also offers several government plans for Office 365 that can help you meet compliance and security standards.

We’d be happy to talk more with you about what you need and how we can help. To get started, get in touch.


Source: Gartner. How to Use Cloud to Modernize Legacy Systems. October 2017.