While cloud migration is a top priority, many federal agencies are still trying to develop their migration strategies and budget, often from scratch. This creates a unique challenge for federal IT teams, as they often can’t wait until they have that strategy in hand for migrating workloads to the cloud. This is especially true with cloud collaboration and communication technologies.

Today’s increasingly mobile and remote workforce depends on reliable, secure collaboration tools to support critical day-to-day operations and drive their missions forward. Because of this immediate need, agencies are still making large investments in traditional, onsite communication systems, with purchases ranging from specialized hardware, software licensing, and network architectures.

These traditional solutions typically have short lifecycles, limited capacity, no interoperability, and they lack advanced features. Purchasing the wrong solutions today can severely impede an agency’s future cloud migration.

So, how can agencies avoid hampering their modernization efforts and make the right cloud collaboration and communications decisions? Here are the top four ways agencies can start investing in cloud collaboration now to ease their future migration to the cloud.

  1. Move away from specialized hardware

Among the most common purchases with limited returns are private Branch Exchange (PBX) telephone systems based on Time-Division Multiplexing (TDM) technology, along with video conference bridges leveraging Digital Signal Processors (DSPs). These types of specialized hardware are built for a single purpose, and they tie the hardware and software into a single platform.

As customers look to upgrade or expand these technologies, it’s not uncommon to completely replace these products with the latest generation of “special hardware.” This can be an extremely costly and time-consuming endeavor.

Server and application virtualization emerged well over a decade ago. This technology allows for the decoupling of hardware and software. Agencies rely on virtualization today for everything from directory services, database servers, business applications, and even disaster recovery. Many agencies already have virtualization solutions available, along with the personnel and technical know-how. This makes moving collaboration services to a new or existing virtualized infrastructure much easier. Virtualizing an agency’s communication and collaboration technology environments is the first step towards gaining the flexibility necessary to consume these services from the cloud.

  1. Look into flexible consumption models

Traditional software buys are perpetual – you buy a license, pay for annual maintenance, and it’s yours forever. This is how on-premises communication systems have always been purchased and consumed. However, what happens when a perpetual software purchase no longer meets organizational needs? How can you account for future growth and different types of users with varying communication requirements? Most importantly, what happens to these perpetual licenses when moving to the cloud?

New and flexible software models are arising to address these challenges. They provide a simple, organization-wide subscription with a mix of on-premises, cloud, and hybrid collaboration. Agencies pick the services they want to deploy, choose how they want to deploy them, and grow at their own pace. Depending on their agency’s size and requirements, varying subscription options also exist. There are also enterprise agreement options that can cover every employee, delivering maximum solution value.

If an agency isn’t sure where they want to start, active and named user models offer a cost-effective starting point for determining collaboration needs and usage across the agency.

  1. Know the security landscape

When considering any hosted solution, understanding the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) requirements is paramount. FedRAMP provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. To lessen the costly and inefficient process of traditional risk management, they operate using a “do once, use many times” approach.

FedRAMP categorizes cloud service offerings into one of three impact levels – low, moderate, and high. Each impact level brings increasingly stringent security controls based on Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 199. The impact levels are defined by how the loss of data confidentiality, integrity, and availability would affect an agency’s mission and assets. For Department of Defense (DoD) cloud services, additional provisional authorizations (PA) and security controls/enhancements are often required, sometimes referred to as FedRAMP+.

The wide range of cloud security requirements raises important questions for agencies investigating cloud collaboration as a service. How do they balance pervasive, anywhere communication with an increase in security controls and visibility? To ensure the integrity of communications, endpoints must meet FedRAMP specifications for security algorithms and ciphers. Additionally, providing critical communication services in the event of network downtime and interoperability with systems outside of the cloud security boundary must be considered.

Manufacturers are aware of these security requirements and are developing cloud collaboration tools and services that meet FedRAMP requirements to better support federal agencies as they move to cloud-based collaboration. Cisco offers a Hosted Collaboration Solutions for Government (HCS-G) that is FedRAMP authorized, and recently introduced Hosted Collaboration Solutions for Defense (HCS-D), which is also FedRAMP authorized and Impact Level 5 (IL-5) approved. These cloud-based collaboration solutions can be quickly deployed and integrated, helping agencies achieve cloud mandates.

  1. Prepare your network

Agencies on legacy PBX systems and dedicated voice-only networks have not addressed the challenges of converging voice, video, and data. As the need for anywhere communication continues to extend beyond traditional borders, a reliable IP-based transport must be in place. When combining voice, video, and data on a single network, issues such as packet loss and jitter can wreak havoc on real-time communications. Assessing your network’s ability to handle increased traffic loads and ensuring a proper Quality of Service (QoS) implementation is key to preparing your network for any collaboration solution.

The increase in cloud-dependence makes Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity even more important. Existing circuits are typically saturated and cannot easily handle the addition of voice and video traffic. Agencies need to decide if they want to bring in new connectivity methods to serve these purposes or expand their existing transport. They also must consider how SIP trunking and public switched telephone network (PSTN) connectivity come into play with this new model. Redundancy of these connections are equally as critical. By eliminating single points of failure, agencies can increase the accessibility of communication services agency-wide.

With these smart investments, agencies can ease their transition to the cloud and meet federal mandates, saving time and budget in the long term.

If your agency is interested in learning more about cloud based collaboration tools or would like an assessment of their current environment with recommendations for smart collaboration solutions, please contact Force 3’s here.

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