The New Perfect Storm
As government agencies look to modernize and secure their IT systems, datacenter infrastructure, and applications central to their operations and mission, it can feel like the perfect storm. Most organizations understand that the degree of success they have will be determined by their ability to leverage large volumes of real-time data to support critical decisions. This has placed increased demands on IT teams to deliver new and enhanced services in order to support today’s imperative mission goals.
The stakes are high. Securing federal information and infrastructure is one of the highest national security priorities in the face of rapidly changing technologies, persistent threats, coordinated attacks, increasing interconnectivity, and dependence on technology and data. In addition, White House policy directives (including zero trust architecture), legislative mandates, and evolving technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are driving cybersecurity programs and supporting procurements.
Complexity grows. Challenges to progress are often hindered by complex government IT environments where legacy IT operates alongside modern and emerging technologies. Legacy, three-tier infrastructures are difficult to scale, hamper agility and flexibility, and mandate time and resource-intensive expansion. Virtual machines and cloud computing are quickly eliminating traditional security boundaries. The distributed nature of data across dissimilar IT environments has created new capabilities alongside new security vulnerabilities and data management challenges. Agencies are working to address cybersecurity priorities while addressing lingering operational challenges from the disruptive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The paradigm shift to larger remote workforces adds to the challenge.
Insatiable demand. Every organization has seen skyrocketing demand. According to Gartner, demand for business apps is 5x higher than current IT capacities. It is no longer acceptable for IT teams to take weeks or months to make technology changes or enable infrastructures for operations and mission needs.
IT staffing shortages. As recently reported, 73% of respondents to a CIO survey have prioritized addressing staffing shortages and filling open tech positions. With expertise often located within technology silos, key staffing gaps can adversely impact systems performance as well as increase security vulnerabilities. In addition, another risk is in the widespread use of unapproved technologies. Recent studies reveal that 46% of employees use shadow IT to more easily perform job duties.
The federal government has constraints from moving applications, workloads, and data to public cloud, including:
- Legacy, mission-critical applications and infrastructure
- Limited resources in key skills and budgets
- Security concerns with moving data to public cloud
- Sensitive data and workloads that must remain on-prem
- Regulatory compliance and mandates
- Data locality requirements
Despite the environment and challenges, the imperative is to increase the speed of digital transformation and innovation in IT, including broad technological transformation and improving cybersecurity. As reported, 86% of public sector customers cite hybrid cloud (spanning on-premises private clouds and public clouds) as their ideal IT environment. Our public sector customers strive to have the “right mix” of clouds, whether on-prem (private), edge, public, hybrid or multicloud. This is primarily because each agency wants to locate each workload (and data) where it best suits operations or the mission, comply with regulations, or maximize security and cost-effectiveness.
What is the best way forward?
There is great debate on this topic spanning a wide range of answers. On the one end, some technology and consulting organizations recommend starting small with pilots and moving workloads that are not primary to their mission to gain insights and lessons learned as they advance their overall digital transformation. At the other end of the range, other organizations recommend large programs to overhaul the entire IT organization, often requiring support from professional service organizations.
According to CompTIA, there are more than 525,000 software and IT services companies in the United States (approximately 40,500 tech startups were established in 2018 alone). With that many voices, solutions and innovations in the market, it can be overwhelming and paralyze decision-making. In addition, most organizations—public sector or commercial—lack a real understanding of their applications, ranging from what applications they have deployed to how many are properly licensed and how those applications communicate within the app and with other applications across the network. Without a deep knowledge of the environment, it’s very difficult to make those applications efficient and automated, but there’s also the uncertainty of how those applications will perform in the cloud.
In government agencies, we have seen three typical paths for advancing digital transformation and their Cloud-Smart agenda:
- Path #1: Easiest Lift – Modernizing infrastructure to meet the needs of the enterprise cloud – getting the right foundation. Our recommendation: re-platform your data center with Nutanix Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) that natively converges compute and storage into X86 servers with attached flash and hard disk drives that are deployed as a cluster. With built-in virtualization, security and management, this Nutanix Cloud Platform will simplify IT operations and give agencies the flexibility to migrate apps in place and to hybrid cloud later as the software is the same (on-prem and in the public cloud). One benefit is that agencies will be able to utilize native public cloud services in parallel for “bursty” apps that may require immediate scale. Another use case is business continuity/disaster recovery, so agencies no longer have to build or maintain a secondary data center. This is the “easiest” lift in cloud modernization.
- Path #2: Medium Lift – Evaluate and select applications that can be modernized with containers and microservices architecture, so they can easily migrate to the cloud and scale rapidly to meet operational and/or mission priorities. Our recommendation: the Red Hat Openshift® container management solution on the Nutanix® Cloud Platform. The Red Hat platform will facilitate an easy container journey, allowing agencies to focus on the applications because the infrastructure configuration and data plane is already laid out. Taking this approach will enable agencies to learn more about their applications and make the apps more repeatable. This is a “medium-lift” in cloud modernization.
- Path #3: Heaviest Lift – Move all apps and workloads to the public cloud, which generally involves refactoring applications through the cloud vendor of choice. Refactoring is essentially starting over from scratch. This approach is labor-intensive and will require the most education as it is a paradigm shift. The total process can take years and locks agencies into a cloud provider’s cloud-native services such as containers and data services. There are generally very high fees for data egress should agencies decide to repatriate onsite or move to another public cloud. This is a “heavy-lift” in cloud modernization.
The path forward is clearer than you think. The Nutanix point of view is that a two-step approach (path #1 and path #2) can take any government agency from their existing environment to a modern web-scale architecture with built-in automation and management. Government IT can easily modernize legacy apps and extend applications and workloads to their cloud of choice that meets their specific requirements. This approach enables agencies to simplify IT operations, reduce costs, and supercharge their applications to increase efficiency to better support operations and their mission.
Step 1: Simplify and evolve your on-prem environment with hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI)
Infrastructure matters. We have seen government organizations struggle to maintain legacy three-tier infrastructure (e.g., server, storage, virtualization, and networking) with silos of dedicated teams for each tier. In addition, government IT has struggled with “network hotspots”—areas where network capacity is insufficient to support new applications or ones that have moved to the cloud. We have seen customers who previously experienced a network packet loss of one percent that changed an application load time from 3 seconds to as much as 30 seconds, impacting every end user.
Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) technology has emerged as the top modernization infrastructure choice with its web-scale architecture, which proves to be ideal for large distributed platforms such as Kubernetes® orchestration with Red Hat OpenShift. Web-scale refers to the level of speed and scalability for the deployment and management of infrastructure, making it easy for government IT teams to provision necessary resources for internal stakeholders. Kubernetes® is an open-source container orchestration system for automating software deployment, scaling, and management.
Nutanix pioneered HCI by blending web-scale engineering and consumer-grade design to natively converge traditional three-tier infrastructure into a resilient, software-defined solution with rich machine intelligence. Nutanix HCI includes AOS, an AI-hardened OS, and Intelligent Operations, which provides operational simplicity with a single management console for automation, management, cost governance, and compliance.
HCI allows government IT organizations to standardize upon software-defined storage infrastructure that is simpler to deploy, manage, and scale out as agency and mission needs grow without sacrificing reliability and security. This delivers characteristics of public cloud for on-prem environments such as predictable performance, flexible cloud consumption, robust security, and seamless application mobility for all enterprise applications at any scale. It supports all mission-critical workloads to enable end-user computing, ROBO environments, database management, dev/test, big data analytics, disaster recovery, and more.
Freedom of choice has been at the forefront of Nutanix since our inception. Government IT can choose the right virtualization platform for their private cloud without fear of vendor lock-in. Nutanix includes a built-in hypervisor option, AHV, in addition to fully supporting other common virtualization solutions, including the VMware® ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V® hypervisors. Along with the support of over 180 server platforms, agencies can choose hardware from their preferred vendor and utilize the Nutanix HCI software. In addition, with the Nutanix platform, agencies gain software license portability, which increases flexibility and reduces cost. In a recent TCO analysis by IDC, a three-tier infrastructure solution configured to meet typical resource and service-level requirements of three enterprise application environments that make up a representative IT department for an organization returned a $6,488,745 five-year TCO. It was 21.7% higher than the comparable configuration for hybrid cloud, and 13.1% higher than the Nutanix Private Cloud. Based on those TCO calculations, three-tier infrastructure hardware costs were 11 x higher than the private cloud solution.
Adopting HCI from Nutanix reduces IT complexity, enabling government IT to focus on strategic priorities instead of managing various toolsets across a legacy environment. This software empowers government IT to deliver highly scalable, available, and efficient cloud services—all while reducing TCO by as much as 62%. In addition, government agencies can realize 85% less unplanned downtime and 53% less staff time to deploy compute resources. Nutanix is the pioneer and leader in HCI, as evidenced by Nutanix being named a Leader in the 2021 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Hyperconverged Infrastructure Software for the fifth year running.
Nutanix starts with a secure-by-design approach leveraging a secure development lifecycle (SecDL) for anything that’s coded. A continuous operational model is then applied using DevSecOps for updates, feature enhancements, and new solutions. Nutanix is the only HCI solution certified for placement on the Department of Defense Information Network Approved Products List (DoDIN APL). The DoDIN APL is a single consolidated list of products that have completed the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA’s) rigorous Cybersecurity (CS) and Interoperability (IO) certification.
Modernizing datacenters with Nutanix HCI is as simple as a virtual migration with no downtime. Compared to the costly and labor-intensive undertaking of moving an entire legacy datacenter straight to the public cloud, this first step in the two-step approach will save both time and money by providing an on-ramp to the public cloud. Nutanix also provides a free workload migration tool called MOVE to assist agencies with this migration process. For those agencies with more complex migration processes, the Nutanix Xpert services team can provide workshops and guidance informed by years of experience assisting federal agencies with their cloud journeys.
Nutanix enables government IT to take the same HCI software and extend into the public cloud with the FedRAMP-authorized Nutanix Cloud Clusters™ solution (currently authorized as “Nutanix Clusters on AWS GovCloud”). Government IT can achieve an enterprise cloud platform that empowers them to unify clouds (private and public) into one seamless environment, allowing them to choose the right cloud for each application. It is easy to take any on-prem application and replicate on another cluster located in public cloud, which provides significant benefits such as:
- Getting on-demand infrastructure, eliminating the need to order, deploy, and maintain new hardware, leveraging web-scale engineering to scale out as needed
- Improving disaster recovery since government IT can be constantly replicating in the public cloud
- Realizing new capabilities, such as isolating environments to engage bad actors or engaging authorized mission partners globally
- Improving security posture. Nutanix Cloud Clusters is part of Nutanix Government Cloud Services that is FedRamp authorized at the moderate level
One example of a government agency taking this approach is the Department of Work and Pensions (UK). They have progressed in their cloud journey with Nutanix. Learn more here.
We have compiled the top three “lessons-learned” from working with public sector customers on cloud migration:
- It's not an overnight process. It is a journey, and agencies can show success in smaller steps that deliver results without taking on a massive full-scale data center migration.
- Security and networking connectivity are two of the biggest hurdles to hybrid cloud. Think about them early and often in the process.
- Moving to hybrid cloud allows government the opportunity to introduce new methodologies into their organization (like DevSecOps and Zero Trust).
Ready to see the technical details ? Here is a link to a reference architecture.
Step 2: Modernize legacy applications with Red Hat OpenShift on Nutanix
Now that we have addressed the infrastructure underpinning the IT environment, let’s focus on applications.
Modernizing applications is a complicated undertaking, with requirements for accelerated integration and interoperability across environments. It is important to figure out how applications will perform in the cloud and use lessons learned to inform migration of other applications. The most difficult path forward is to refactor existing applications to a cloud-native architecture. It is more efficient to focus on ensuring new software development is cloud-ready and review existing applications to determine if refactoring is feasible or if they should remain virtualized.
There is a good reason for the growing adoption of container technologies for modernizing legacy applications. They help government agencies extend applications to the public cloud, achieving a hybrid cloud. They enable the government to dynamically optimize where their applications run as cost, security, performance, and other variables change. (Reminder: Containers combine application code and their dependencies into lightweight packages that government agencies can easily move across dissimilar cloud infrastructures as their requirements shift.)
Nutanix and Red Hat have formed a strategic partnership to help government IT succeed in their digital transformation imperative. Together, Red Hat and Nutanix provide a “full-stack” solution to more easily build, scale, and manage containerized and virtualized cloud-native applications on-premises and in hybrid cloud environments. This certified solution features Red Hat OpenShift—the industry-leading enterprise Kubernetes platform built for hybrid cloud—powered by the Nutanix Cloud Platform, the market-leading HCI provider.
Nutanix and Red Hat have a collaborative engineering roadmap to deliver robust product interoperability. In addition, there is a joint support agreement with cross-product training and dedicated labs to help ensure support resources are in place to prepare specialists to handle customer calls that involve one or both vendors’ solutions. Government agencies benefit from choosing an integrated solution instead of being the uncomfortable point of integration.
Red Hat OpenShift gives government agencies a single platform for application innovation that lets them operate consistently and innovative continuously. This takes CI/CD to the next level. It allows applications to span every cloud (e.g., on-prem, private cloud, edge cloud, public cloud, hybrid, or multi cloud) so that organizations can build what they need today and for future mission requirements. Open source containers enabled by OpenShift allow application movement among these environments. If an IT team needs to move an app to a different infrastructure to get better pricing, comply with a new regulatory mandate, or gain a unique feature in a different cloud, for example, open-source containers make that mobility possible with a simple click or two.
The Nutanix Cloud Platform (built on HCI) integrates a complete set of data services to handle the changing demands of web-scale containerized applications. The Nutanix Cloud Platform provides an abstraction layer that sits on top of underlying IT infrastructures, including multi-vendor private, hosted, and public clouds. This software provides enterprises with centralized visibility and management capabilities across the various infrastructures in which their workloads and applications run. Performance and capacity scale linearly, allowing the infrastructure to support enterprise cloud-native workloads. HCI is resilient from the ground up; nodes are self-healing and upgrade without disrupting application performance. The Nutanix full-featured container storage interface (CSI) deploys with every Kubernetes cluster and simplifies integration with Nutanix Files Storage and Nutanix Volumes Block Storage. In addition, for workloads requiring object storage, Nutanix Objects Storage provides a simple, scalable, and security-focused storage tier that is Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) compatible.
In taking this two-step approach, government agencies can get the best of both worlds by modernizing on-premises environments, simplifying application development and management, and locate apps and workloads on their cloud of choice that best supports their mission. Government agencies can confidently advance their cloud journey and leverage new capabilities in ways that make their day-to-day work more secure, efficient, and effective. Nutanix is the industry leader in HCI and Red Hat OpenShift is the industry leader for container management and devops platforms. Together, we help government agencies remove legacy and cloud silos, simplify IT operations, reduce costs, and embrace the power of cloud on their terms to advance the government's digital transformation objectives. The result: government agencies can realize the flexibility and agility that is badly needed to better support operations, deliver benefits and services to constituents, and support mission success.
For more information, check out this video for a demo of Cloud-native with Nutanix and Open Shift.
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