The State of Federal IT


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There’s an old proverb (and possibly a curse), to wit: “May you live in interesting times.” Regarding Federal IT, we certainly do live in interesting times. On one hand, there are decades worth of legacy IT systems crowding Federal datacenters. On the other, there is the promise of public cloud, transforming IT budgets to pay-as-you-go, pay for-only-what-you-use buffets. How, and even if, we move from the former to the latter is the big question facing Federal IT executives.

First, let’s take a look at the legacy environment. The traditional architectural approach to enterprise IT relied on dedicated compute servers, storage, and networking, each requiring highly skilled domain experts to maintain. These systems have become increasingly hard to manage especially with new procurement cycles adding newer, faster systems to the infrastructure but with the same silos and drawbacks as the existing 3-tier systems. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB )reports that upwards of 80% of the $45.8B budgeted for Federal Civilian IT for FY19 will be spent on Operations and Maintenance (O&M), a significant amount on sustaining legacy systems. These aging systems pose efficiency, cybersecurity, and mission risk issues, such as ever-rising costs to maintain them and an inability to meet current or expected mission requirements.

Now, let’s look at public cloud. Generally, the architecture offers some distinct advantages: low barriers to entry – with a credit card and a few clicks, you can provision your own virtual machine in a cloud provider’s datacenter; fractional usage – you pay for what you need, when you need it – no need to overprovision to ensure you have headroom for the unexpected; resource management – you no longer need an army of in-house specialized IT staff just to maintain the status quo. Your current staff are freed to work on more mission-oriented tasks, to innovate, and grow the alignment of IT to the needs of the mission.

On the other hand, public cloud is not a panacea. While these cloud environments are especially well-suited for elasticity to meet dynamic demand, some users have been surprised by the upcharges for supporting unexpected or cyclic increases in resource demands. In the recent Enterprise Cloud Index by Vanson Bourne, 35% of respondents reported going over budget on their annual public cloud budget, and a 2018 IDC survey on AI and Cloud Adoption, (IDC, “Cloud Repatriation Accelerates in a Multi-Cloud World,” Michelle Bailey and Matthew Eastwood, July 2018 US44185818), found that 80% of those surveyed reported that they would be moving applications previously deployed into a public cloud back on-premise or into a private cloud. The percent of public cloud applications expected to be repatriated within two years of moving to public clouds was 50%.

Another surprise comes when the client actually decides to switch public cloud providers or decides to bring applications and data back in-house. Cloud providers base some of their charges on bandwidth. As users migrate from on-premise to Cloud, this data migration typically is spread out over time with low to moderate bandwidth. However, when switching between Clouds or decommissioning a Cloud hosted environment, the bandwidth (and cost) required to repatriate the aggregated data can be significant.

Security is another major concern, and a key factor for bringing applications back in-house, as reported in the IDC survey cited above. While certification programs like FedRAMP provide some assurance that the targeted Cloud meets a prescribed level of security, agencies must decide if that level of assurance is enough, as well as determine if the capabilities required by their mission are available within the services that have reached FedRAMP certification.

It has become increasingly clear that it is not a binary choice between staying on legacy on-premise systems or moving to a public cloud. A hybrid approach to bridge the legacy and modern methodologies provides many advantages.

In Part II, we’ll look at how Nutanix approaches these challenges.

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