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Government Data Centers Meet The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

At roughly $80 billion in annual spending, the US Federal Government is the world’s largest consumer of information technology. That budget funds pervasive IT use across hundreds of agencies (nobody is certain how many). To better manage the extraordinary costs, in December 2014 Congress enacted the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA). This isn’t their first attempt at control. Back in 1996, there was the Clinger–Cohen Act (CCA), formerly the Information Technology Management Reform (ITMRA), that was intended to improve federal government acquisition, use, and disposal of IT resources. And of course, in 2010, there was the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) started by the Information Officers Council (IOC) and later merged with PortfolioStat.

Give them credit for persistence and fun with acronyms.

magic_datacenter_imgClinger-Cohen faded away after the two sponsors left Congress. But FDCCI reportedly succeeded in closing more than 700 data centers. Still, like the multiplication of brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, undiscovered data centers keep popping up. To be fair, final FITARA baseline measures weren’t settled until last spring and agency report cards were due in August. Not much time for advances by any government clock. So, the current status is still unsettled.

In a MeriTalk interview, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., one of four co-chairs of the Cloud Computing Caucus Advisory Group (CCCAG) provided some insight. Lieu, who has a Computer Science Degree, is optimistic. He sees FITARA already progressing in the reform of IT project management and he believes the initiative is on the right track.

Speaking at MeriTalk’s 12/9/15 FITARA Forum in Washington, Rep. Mark Meadows stressed Congressional focus on ensuring real progress my assuring that foundation data collection is accurate. “It’s in collecting the data that we have a good starting point.”

A Practical Focus

In his interview, Lieu cited three particular areas for improvement:

  1. Upgrading legacy systems to function in a 21st-century world dealing with cyber threats, remote and mobile applications, and cloud computing
  2. Upgrading security with two-factor authentication to obstruct hackers
  3. Ensure interoperability between systems such as Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense electronic health records

Importantly, Lieu noted that Federal spending on cloud continues to increase, tripling from 2013 to 2014. And the Department of Defense now has a “Cloud Czar” looking for places that Defense IT can better take advantage of appropriate cloud resources.

Moving government agencies more aggressively to cloud computing presents the promise of substantial operational advantage, but it isn’t a universal remedy. Successful cloud integration into existing IT operations is a technical challenge that demands realistic expectations along with careful planning, time, and expertise. CIOs will be challenged to displace traditional IT thinking and organizationally embrace cloud as a transformational opportunity.
Still, cloud is an opportunity for the government to provide programs and developers with speed and
 data agility. Agencies can concentrate on strategy instead of infrastructure. They can accelerate adoption of advanced technology with minimum capital cost. Cloud initiatives can align mission objectives with technical innovation that transforms legacy systems into a new opportunity that impacts mission success. Actifio benefits agencies by combining data virtualization with assurance of application recoverability and advanced flexibility to securely provide immediate mission capacity at the right place and time. 
Applications move, refresh and test faster. Data migration/consolidation for major cloud moves becomes free of infrastructure constraints. It becomes seamlessly accessible between data centers, among field locations and to individual users at the edge.

So, there are reasons to join in Lieu’s optimism. Compared to earlier initiatives, there are notable differences at this stage for FITARA. First, it’s a bipartisan effort that includes not only Congress but also Federal Agency Managers. What’s more, agencies have more leeway than in previous initiatives to shape what works best for their particular circumstance and mission. Without “arbitrary milestones” all are still committed to reductions in budget and consolidation of physical data centers. So the scorecard may evolve but grading will continue.

It’s clear that lots of work remains for individual agency initiatives, cross-functional coordination (VA & DOD urgently), cloud migration/utilization and security, security, security. It’s all much more than technology; it’s planning, prioritization and demonstrated progress with a long-term view. And thinking of uncontrolled copies, Actifio looks forward to doing its part to subdue the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

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