A new report from Market Connections is offering a look into the variety of ways that federal agencies are consuming IT goods and services in response to the evolution of technology, the federal workforce, and the political climate around federal appropriations.
The transformation of the federal IT enterprise in the last 25 years since the run-up to Y2K has been a story of resourcefulness. In the late ‘90s, as we all anticipated what would happen when the clocks struck 12:00 AM on January 1, 2000, agencies tended to buy IT outright, focusing on owning the lifecycle of hardware units and software licenses. Up until DISA inked an ‘as-a-service’ contract with HP for Utility Cloud Computing in 2006, government agencies typically took on the heavy lift of building proprietary solutions. Twenty-five years later, federal agencies are consuming IT goods and services in as many ways as the missions it serves, and the facts revealed in the report tell some interesting stories.
“Years of budget uncertainty have helped drive change when it comes to owning data storage solutions outright and towards as-a-service or managed services model,” shared Rick Harmison, Cloud Economist at Nutanix. “Our inherent need to be able to secure data has also been a major factor in the need to reduce procurement cycles, but what will cement these changes in IT consumption is our experiences with the pandemic and the need to be agile in order to support the mission from wherever it needs to be delivered.”
The report explores six of the most commonly used IT consumption models, from traditional data centers to public, private, and hybrid cloud environments, and managed service options based on different ownership and operation models (Contractor-Owned/Contractor-Operated – COCO and Government-Owned/Contractor-Operated). It explores how to optimize consumption models for different use cases including mission applications, office automation applications, end user computing, advanced technologies, IT infrastructure, network infrastructure, and security.
“I think the rankings reflect what we see every day with our government customers – they want the benefits that public cloud promises but recognize that in some instances to maintain a level of control of their data and operations, an on-premise model is better suited to their needs. Choosing the right consumption model depends on a variety of factors,” explained Harmison.
One of the surprising data points, however, was related to agencies’ perceptions of their security posture. According to the survey, the biggest surprise was that “regardless of consumption model – nearly 30 percent of respondents felt they had their IT security under control for the last two years” and that security was rated as “the best performing attribute for their agency’s IT.” Less surprising, however, was the insight that 60 percent of respondents “have or are considering repatriating workloads from their public cloud instance to their on-premise or private cloud resources.” The shift from Cloud First to Cloud Smart has certainly eased the burden on agencies in terms of where workloads reside and alleviated pain points for IT teams no longer confronting the need to re-engineer legacy applications for the public cloud.
But what should come as no surprise, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, is the need for flexibility. According to Dan Fallon, Senior Director for Engineering at Nutanix, the prioritization of flexibility has been important to federal IT teams for some time. “User resources and applications need more elasticity to maintain a consistent service level or productivity. By contrast, more predictable, or static, resources don’t need the same elasticity,” Fallon explained. “This point of view enables agencies to better optimize their workloads between public and private cloud resources.”
Also falling in the category of unsurprising results is the ability to manage budgets, particularly under the shadow of continuing resolutions and government shutdowns that have plagued agencies for the better part of two decades. By moving away from buying hardware, software, and products – and owning their lifecycles – and embracing the subscription, or as-a-service based model, federal agencies have fewer transactions to manage and more control over their IT environment. “The private cloud or COCO [contractor owned/contractor operated] models are a nice alternative to public cloud models because agencies can realize the economic benefits of a cloud but still retain ownership of the data,” said Harmison. “You know where the data resides and can control the security around it.”
What the survey ultimately revealed though is that federal agencies are finding success with multiple consumption models, as they continue meet today’s mission and drive innovation for future requirements. While in the past, the goal was to purchase IT that will last a long time, today, with all factors considered, the goal is to invest in IT that will deliver the greatest agility and flexibility to meet known, and yet to be known, challenges.
To learn more about federal IT consumption models, you can read the full report here.