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FCW : July 30, 2015
Technology July 30, 2015 FCW.COM 19 times,” agency CIO Doug Wolfe said in an interview last year with FCW’s sister publication GCN. That should significantly improve the “time to mission,” he added, because it now takes just days to set up new data center environments and new analytics, rather than the months or years it took before. NSA and DOD agencies with similar connectivity concerns are considering the same approach, Tyliszczak said. Data vs. applications Other agencies are discovering that they can get the advantages of the cloud while also having applications and services tar- geted to their specific needs, Tyliszczak said. For instance, they benefit from the economies of scale and operational effi- ciency that come with developing in the cloud rather than building an application themselves in a small-scale computing environment, and they shift the cost model from one that largely relies on upfront capital expenditures to one that has lower recurring costs. “These days, you really should be able to put most of what an agency does into a cloud,” Tyliszczak said. “There will always be some legacy application that performs some unique function with unique interfaces that can’t be updated that way, but the reality is that much of the workload that agencies have today can be moved into come kind of cloud- based environment.” There are other ways to look at the issues. Officials at Hitachi Data Systems Federal, for example, say the focus should be on the data that applications produce and where it needs to go rather than on the applications themselves. “In the past, agencies would buy a solution and then cus- tomize that to get the functionality they needed,” said Brian Houston, the company’s vice president of engineering. “What you would then find is multiple silos of infrastructure for the mainframe, for a [Network File System] type of environment, another for databases and so on.” Instead, he said that if agencies have an infrastructure that allows them to move data to the appropriate performance tier, it typically doesn’t matter whether the application is built, bought or customized. “If you build the infrastructure so that it is scalable and flexible enough, so that data can go wherever it’s needed no matter the protocol involved, you really take the risk out of the whole build/buy question,” Houston said. “The real issue is not about the application but what type of data needs to reside in the cloud, say, versus what needs to reside in an on-premises type of environment.” He admitted that it isn’t always easy to convince agencies to fol- low that approach. But once they see the capabilities, it starts to make sense as far as budget and cost justifications are concerned. And it fulfills the mandate that agencies move to the cloud while allowing them to retain control over applications and data, which is still a fundamental concern. Rephrasing the question Officials are also rethinking how the often-turgid government procurement process could be revamped to meet the grow- ing demand for new and better application functionality and the increasing speed at which appli- cations and services must be pro- duced. That’s why GSA has been developing special procure- ment processes for its upcoming blanket purchase agreement for agile services, which will enable the 18F program to get vendor help with user-centric design, agile software devel- opment and DevOps. “Ultimately, we want access to the broadest pool of ven- dors possible in order to establish a marketplace,” Zvenyach said. “In this ‘alpha’ phase of the agile delivery BPA, we are using IT Schedule 70, which has thousands of vendors” and makes it relatively easy for other companies to qualify for an IT Schedule 70 award. In the end, government technology development might no longer be a choice between buy or build. “There are some things we’ll build, some we’ll buy, some we’ll commission to get certain parts,” said Aaron Snow, acting executive director of 18F. “Our mission is to help our agencies buy and build great digital experiences, however that may work out.” Whether you use COTS, build custom solutions or do something in between is not really the question anymore, Tyliszczak said. “It’s more a matter of how well the products you are buying off the shelf fit the agency’s need and how much customization is needed for that,” he said. “So it’s a hybrid of COTS, some customization and maybe some build, and the real challenge is in identifying how much of each is required.” n “In practice, much — ifnotmost—of the things we need in government are very similar to needs experienced outside of government. In those cases, we borrow or buy. But where the government’s needs differ, we’ll look to borrow or build.” — DAVE ZVENYACH, 18F 0730fcw_016-019.indd 19 7/14/15 1:54 PM
July 15, 2015
August 15, 2015