Editor’s Note: This article was penned by Greg O’Connell, Senior Director of Federal at Nutanix, to discuss the shifting priorities and approaches being applied to federal IT infrastructure. Longevity is no longer an asset for the federal IT strategy, rather, agencies’ ability to keep pace with changing IT requirements is paramount, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us. Here’s what O’Connell had to share on the matter.
It’s no secret that the average age of the federal government’s IT infrastructure can be measured in decades. But the pace of innovation and world events are demonstrating that the concept of ‘built to last’ is not serving the requirements of modern government, work, economics, performance, cybersecurity, and more. If anything, our current environment has made it obvious that it’s time for a new point of view for federal IT, one that places a higher value on technology and architectures that are built to adapt and evolve, and perhaps easily give way to new solutions when the time is right, rather than ‘built to last’.
Right now, federal IT leaders have an opportunity to recast their visions for digital transformation and a mission that is more people-oriented than ever. The mass shift to remote work precipitated by the COVID-19 crisis revealed a lot about agencies’ readiness to embrace large scale, sustained, telework. Those that took a more aggressive approach to invest in remote work capabilities and training, were able to pivot and enable more personnel to work from home quickly. With remote work here to stay and a mission that will only continue to grow more complex, prioritizing agility like this should be the guiding principle for agency IT infrastructure investment, whether cloud-based or on-premise.
What, then, does this shift to prioritizing adaptable IT look like in practice?
Most agencies are well on their way adopting cloud for various departments or programs, so the primary goal should be having cloud optionality that empowers IT managers to use whichever resource – different cloud providers, on-premise, or data center resources – to scale resources up and down on-demand, and run workloads in the optimal environment for their requirements.This of course includes considerations around performance, cost, and security. Again, COVID-19 revealed so much about our dependency on the cloud, and the necessity of having options among clouds – not just when procurement time comes around, but daily, weekly, and monthly.
In addition to the IT team keeping all the lights on, our federal personnel needs to be enabled with the same modern capabilities to enable their work, which enables most private sector personnel, and that enables all of us in our personal lives. In the span of a couple of weeks federal workers went from being in the office to working at home. Many personnel and their managers had little experience or training in working from home and were suddenly their own IT team. Much of the legacy technology still in use in agencies today wasn’t built to facilitate the sort of massive, extended remote work that is needed today. Even much of the modern technology in use that was built to support modern work styles rely on a level of homogeneity of the brand in the IT stack to perform at its best. This format – IT operations dominated by a single brand – is still too limiting for the type of adaptability that is required at a basic level for personnel to remain productive. The more agencies can exercise a simple point-and-click, or drag-and-drop, to manage their IT requirements, the more adaptable and agile they will be. Leveraging interoperable solutions that deliver consumer-grade design and automation will set agencies up for short and long-term success.
While technology has evolved to enable a variety of practical consumption models, federal procurement practices still favor the ‘built to last’ approach – even for things like cloud computing services. But the adaptability of IT is highly dependent upon procurement. Even today, agile procurements are in the minority, but still tend to include lengthy terms – again, ‘built to last’ but not necessarily built to adapt. Some industry organizations, like Nutanix, are pivoting to deliver market offerings through subscription. This format is so much more advantageous for federal agencies. Instead of being saddled with aging systems that are built to outlast modern innovations, they can easily maintain the most current technologies – and the related security upgrades – in their systems, without the pain and expense of waiting for something to age out and be ready for replacement. When continuing resolutions inhibit agencies’ abilities to acquire new technologies, subscription-based offerings can ensure that budgetary uncertainties don’t condemn them to continue investing in the status quo.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has revealed strengths that many organizations didn’t know they had. As the uncertainty about when a return to traditional office-based work persists, we know that the need to enable work-from-anywhere will also persist. Our vision has always been to simplify our customers’ IT architecture to efficiently maximize its performance and agility, and also to simplify customer’s ability to acquire and maintain the capabilities they need through subscription-based offerings.
With the performance innovations in the Nutanix AOS platform, such as the incorporation of Intel’s Storage Performance Development Kit, which greatly optimizes the speed of access to data through NVMe protocols, the ability of federal agencies to deliver an agile, high-performance user experience and continuity of operations, regardless of where personnel are located, is greater than ever before. Of the many things we’ve learned this year, one of them has to be that we don’t have to be resigned to doing things the way we always have, but we absolutely can adapt to new work styles and capabilities, and be productive beyond our expectations. Collectively, we have already done this, and this experience will usher in a new era of agility and adaptability in the federal IT enterprise.
Greg O’Connell is the Federal Sales Leader at Nutanix.