Migrating a Homeland Security System to the Cloud

TRADITIONAL DATA CENTERS AND DATA CENTER MANAGEMENT MODELS built for security and compliance with industry and federal standards—often can’t keep pace with the continuous demand for application development in response to constantly changing priorities. In light of rapid changes in business policy and system usage patterns, the Department of Homeland Security sought VariQ’s expertise to achieve better system performance and operability for its legacy Verification Information System, a composite information system that incorporates data from various DHS databases.

Two of these databases, the E-Verify and Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE), provide services that are widely accessed by employers and federal agencies respectively. The E-Verify program is used by 700,000 employers nationwide and supports 55 million annual inquiries to verify employment eligibility of potential employees. The SAVE program enables 1,100 federal, state, and local benefit-granting agencies to verify the immigration status or naturalized/derived citizenship of benefit applicants. 

The Challenge

The Verification Information System had been architected 15 years previously with the best infrastructure principles and technologies of the time. However, a continuously increasing rate of change requests was causing significant backlogs, while changes implemented by the Data Center’s managed services provider often adversely impacted application performance. Seasonal peak traffic also caused system saturation and outages. Meanwhile, anticipated changes in legislation could potentially lead to a ten-fold increase of system users.    

The Solution

Since several of the Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) systems had already been established and were operating securely on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, migrating the Verification Information System to AWS was the logical choice. 

In partnership with USCIS, VariQ adopted a multi-step approach to address the inherent risks of migrating such a high-profile workload. This included feasibility research to replace components incompatible with cloud environments with alternative solutions; the development of a small-scale prototype to test connectivity and operability in the AWS cloud; and upgrading and extending the continuous integration pipeline with continuous delivery capabilities. Extensive performance testing revealed that performance results four times better than the legacy system had been achieved. The migration of the production environment to the cloud was subsequently completed in under 12 hours with no disruption to the agency’s services. 

The Outcome

VariQ’s adaptive approach to the migration of a Homeland Security mission-critical workload to the AWS cloud enabled the agency to upgrade vital immigration services, providing a production environment that achieves highly enhanced performance results, while enabling Citizenship and Immigration Services to accommodate a ten-fold increase in its user base.

VariQ’s efforts were noticed by the government and industry, resulting in the Verification program receiving the Igniting Innovation Award in 2016 and 2017 by the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council.