Federal IT Transformation in the Post-Pandemic World

It’s impossible to discuss IT modernization without recognizing the events of the last year. Across government, agencies have had to scale their infrastructure and technology to meet the remote workforce demands that have been accelerated by the pandemic. In many cases, they must do so with stretched IT budgets and potentially prolonged project cycles. This has led to a shift in government IT trends and mindsets.

With regard to our workforce, delivery of internal and external services, and the rapid move to remote work has shifted IT infrastructure operating requirements almost overnight and flipped many government orthodoxies on their ear. In 2019 for instance, only 42% of the US federal workforce was deemed eligible for telework. Now in 2020, the US army has seen a 400% increase in remote network capabilities. The US Navy plans to double its remote workforce from 250,000 to 500,000, while the US Air Force has taken steps to increase its network bandwidth by 130%. Outside of the DoD, I’m sure you’ve seen many of these remote transformations and transitions from an in-office scenario with an assumption that line-of-sight supervision is essential, and that individuals must work at a government facility, towards recognizing that back-office and in some cases even some intelligence capabilities can be performed remotely. Overall, we’ve seen an acceptance and expansion of telecommuting, especially recognizing this need. We recognize that many of the services we provide and consume from the federal government can be effectively delivered through a digital framework that often can create a more accessible and personalized experience. We’ve naturally seen the pace of government change accelerate as it’s been forced to react to the demands of the pandemic and the coming post-pandemic world.

As we’ve shifted our population remote, we find ourselves looking at themes we’ve discussed over many years. Case in point: Isn’t public cloud the answer for our IT modernization efforts? While Cloud First mandated a broad modernization effort, it often became a litmus test that stalled modernization because it determined that only a single solution was capable of streamlining and modernizing government IT needs. As of May 2019, the Government Accountability Office determined that only 11% of federal IT systems were even running in the public cloud. Of that, civilian agencies had more than six times the amount of workloads running in the public cloud than the DoD, despite the Department of Defense accounting for over 60% of federal spending. It obviously led to the question: Why was this occurring?

An overall issue has been what I would call the “Data Homing Dilemma”. Roughly 21% of public and private organizations have indicated that they have repatriated data and workloads back on-premises. Why has this occurred? What are the key considerations that have driven this? Data sensitivity and classification, whether it’s national security, privacy regulation and compliance, or the protection of trade secrets in public private research initiatives have driven a move from public cloud to private cloud. If your data is stored locally you end up with a greater level of physical control, which is a paramount element of any security strategy. Application performance needs and low latency demand have also driven a move from public to private solutions. You can’t change physics. Network latency is inherent in solutions that are outside of our agencies’ infrastructure and high-performance applications can drive a high cost. The public cloud is a utility model: the more you use the more it costs. In-high-demand applications and workloads can create an intersection of cost and performance that is in direct conflict with your agency’s budget. Lastly resiliency: Public clouds are not immune to outages. Though increasingly rare, cloud outages can potentially last for days and impact thousands of customers – not only your agency, but in others as well. In these cases, as a customer of the public cloud provider you’re at the mercy of them. Where they must allocate resources and direct the remediation efforts, sometimes while your own service level agreements are suffering. On the other hand, with a local or private cloud workload, you have full control over the availability and performance of your application. Your in-house IT staff that are best suited to the workload’s requirements and can address and correct problems. In some cases, you can look at solutions where a workload may run concurrently, both in a public and a private cloud to better provide performance and a measure of resilience that the public cloud alone cannot accommodate. Thus, the growth of the hybrid cloud. While Cloud First mandated this single solution, Cloud Smart requires that agencies take a risk-based approach to public cloud adoption as part of your modernization efforts. It recognizes that high performance requirements of certain workloads and datasets can’t endure the latency, limiting the kind of cloud environment that can support them. Such critical high-performance applications also compel a level of availability that the owning agency can predictably control.

Overall, it’s led to an understanding that there will be situations where a private or hybrid solution is required. Low latency and zero downtown applications, big data processing and analytics, and data that is especially sensitive given privacy, trade secret, or other national security concerns. For these situations, private cloud delivers flexible, automated, on-demand IT that remains completely within the agency’s direct control. According to IDC, some 90% of organizations, both public and private, indicate that over half of their IT workloads and data are mission-critical and must be maintained on premises. For the greater number of these applications, a hybrid solution is both a functional and valid option. Ultimately, the public cloud is a utility: a tool in our modernization toolbox. But factors such as unprecedented data growth, with Forbes analyzing that 90% of the data that exists today has been created in the last two years, dependency on nonstop data delivery, and the need to repatriate data have driven growth in private and hybrid cloud solutions – which is not a bad thing, as a gives federal IT director, managers, C-level staff, and their direct reports greater control, resiliency, and flexibility. This drives home the need that agencies require partners committed to enterprise class, on-premises infrastructure, edge computing, and a commitment to the hybrid cloud approach.