Virtualizing Federal Information Technology

By Harold Bell
| min

Information technology has evolved immensely over the last three decades, stimulating productivity in many industries. Educational institutions have reinvented the classroom experience by leveraging computers and mobile devices to facilitate learning. Doctors have been able to identify health risks early through cutting edge software and offer preventative means for treatment. Architects can expedite planning and automatically track proposals against design best practices. Regardless of the sector, as new communication and data technologies emerge, individuals and organizations alike expect to have the ability to use information in ways that weren’t possible thirty years ago. And though often overlooked, this especially includes the federal government.

The government is a significant contributor to the growth of new technology in a variety of ways. First, it is a large market. Government agencies must be in a position to obtain innovative technology, hire technology experts, and remove rules that impede the growth of digital services for users. Secondly, they maintain technology partnerships. They need vendors who can successfully manage various types of computers, networks and storage devices while keeping everything updated and connected. The need to keep pace with the speed of technological advancement means many agencies are continually striving for better, often piloting new security-rich technologies that eventually end up embedded in consumer products. Consider the military’s ability to communicate quickly and effectively anywhere in the world. This requirement from the military helped usher in a new wave of collaboration tech – notably cell phones and other types of popular mobile devices.

So where am I going with this? We can agree that technology innovations are intended to conserve money, enable greater efficiencies and/or boost cybersecurity capabilities. And in today’s rapidly evolving digital world, government IT departments need to accomplish all three simultaneously. However, despite being a means to manifest these goals, cloud computing remains one of the elusive tools, in both knowledge and practice, for governments to grasp. In comparison to the government computer software technology available in decades past, modern cloud-based solutions provide the capacity to facilitate increased efficiency at a lower cost, while achieving a higher degree of user satisfaction. It should be a win-win-win prospect for forward-thinking cities, states, and municipalities.

But as rosy and straightforward as that sounds, everybody, to some degree, fears change. And rightly so. Year after year we’ve worked to expand an ecosystem of physical devices and are now working just as hard to virtualize these capabilities. Not to mention, a lot of people have a hard time trusting what they can’t see. Which is why change management exercises and technology adoption initiatives exist. If you are currently working in a federal or state IT department, it’s likely that some of your internal systems have been in place longer than you’ve been there. Which means it will take time to dispel not only the outdated tools and bad behaviors, but also time to adopt the right ones for your agency. But what does that mean exactly? How does one qualify “the right ones”? There are so many services delivered via the cloud, how do you know which one(s) to pick and determine if they’re essential for your agency?

Well, considering the ultimate objectives of technology we identified earlier, one place to start is desktop virtualization. Simply put, this technology marked the separation of the physical computer (desktops, laptops, etc.) and its virtual applications (Microsoft Office, Adobe CS, etc.). By ensuring applications aren’t bound to a specific device, departments won’t need to replace hardware each time they opt to upgrade or change applications. Then, even when agencies are prepared for new technology, the procurement procedure will be a quick, seamless experience versus dragging on for months. The bottom line is that virtualization can remove a lot of the headaches associated with IT management and allows your agency to become more agile as time goes on. It’s important to note that desktop virtualization can be delivered in many ways. There are on-premise options via virtual desktop infrastructure, or VDI, as well as solely cloud-based alternative by way of desktop-as-a-service, or DaaS. A hybrid solution combining the best of both worlds is also available. The variety of deployment options means you must have a good grasp of your objectives and how each option potentially meets those needs.

It’s also important to realize that with government IT, there are many hoops to jump through, including registering processes, certifications, and a great deal of acronyms. Given the possibility of storing classified documents and other sensitive material, it’s important that all new solutions adopted by the government comply with the latest data protection standards. As an example, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) standardizes cloud security, including assessments, access, authorization, and monitoring. Cloud deployments involving federal agencies must meet FedRAMP requirements. So, it’s important that your technology partners either meet these standards or demonstrate they are in the process of receiving this certification.

Lastly, while technology is a vital enabler, it is simply one of several foundational capabilities to keeping government data safe. Keep in mind that “capabilities” aren’t always digital – having the right guidelines in place to manage human resources is just as important as the protocols managing resources in the cloud. It’s critical not to adopt policies that are too restrictive in scope. They should be detailed, including flexibility and remedial protocols in the event of a breach. Outlining policies to address government-related regulations early is crucial to avoid any severe consequences. Your technology providers should also have their own policies in place and actively work with you to maintain compliance. Remember, security in the cloud is a shared responsibility.

As I’ve briefly illustrated above, the cloud can be a viable solution to meeting many of the challenges found in government IT. More specifically, desktop virtualization and the creation of digital workspaces is a great place to start for government agencies looking to leverage the cloud. You can increase productivity, reduce costs, and all while maintaining a safe and secure experience for your users. If you’re interested in a deeper dive of how desktop-as-a-service, or DaaS, is a game-changer in disrupting how agencies collaborate, download our new Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) for Government whitepaper. It details everything you need to know on how DaaS can help eliminate waste and continue driving productivity amongst your staff.

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