Creating a Holistic Environment with Multiple Solutions

This interview is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, The DoD of Tomorrow, which explores how the department is transforming its operations, technology, workforce, and acquisitions process to confront 21st century challenges.

The Department of Defense is an incredibly multifaceted organization. To support that complexity, DoD personnel must craft an equally dynamic IT architecture while maintaining security. Yet considering how many separate solutions must be deployed and operated in concert, the task of creating that environment can be daunting.

However, Joel Dolisy, CIO and CTO at SolarWinds, an IT management and monitoring software provider, said that doesn’t have to be the case. He explained how leveraging interoperable solutions that are dual-use and easy to operate can push the DoD mission forward.

Interoperability Required
First, Dolisy said that IT professionals should focus on acquiring and deploying interoperable solutions. “What the military does is maintain situational awareness on the battlefield,” he said. “But if you look behind the scenes at how they run their IT infrastructure, they don’t have that same level of visibility.”

The primary reason for this lack of transparency is that separate solutions are deployed in silos and configured without regard to how they might interact with other systems. The different acquisition schedules of DoD departments also make it near impossible to deploy a single solution across all agencies and military branches at the same time.

“DoD is extremely large and consists of many different agencies and military branches that are on different budgeting schedules,” said Dolisy. “What you end up with are technologies that may not all align at the same time. You’ve got a kind of chicken and the egg problem.”

Interoperable solutions remediate this problem. “From a level of visibility, having a unified, homogenous set of solutions across the different parts of DoD, ensuring that they share data, makes a lot of sense,” said Dolisy. They can be deployed during separate budgeting cycles, yet maintain visibility across the network via their interoperability.

That’s not the only benefit, either. “Just like in the private sector, as traditionally siloed departments begin to consolidate, interoperability can provide a lot of value in terms of security, adaptability, and the transfer of skills between different systems,” Dolisy continued.

Dual-Use Optimization
To gain these additional benefits, Dolisy said that solutions should be dual-use, as well as interoperable. “What’s important is that the tools being used can actually be interconnected, so that if some tools collect one type of data and that type of data can actually be useful in another tool, there shouldn’t be any barrier in extracting that information to use elsewhere.”

For instance, Dolisy said a tool that runs analysis on configuration management changes could create a dataset equally useful to a tool looking for network security vulnerabilities.

SolarWinds’ suite of products is designed with this in mind. “Our AppStack dashboard brings together data from our server and application monitoring, virtualization manager, and storage products,” said Dolisy. “We bring all of that data into a single dashboard that is easy to consume and provides powerful insights to help pinpoint where problems originate and provide remediation options. We design our products to work together.”

Yet despite using a single dashboard, Dolisy explained that SolarWinds’ products don’t require a master system to govern all this data at once. “That would not work at the scale that DoD needs,” he said. “The best thing is what’s called a ‘federated system,’ where each entity has its own datasets and management scope, but that can roll-up within a hierarchy. So if a four-star general wants to get a picture of all the units under him, he can still do that but at a lower cost than if you actually had to collect all the data and bring it into one single command repository.”

Ease of Experience Ensured
More than a cost-saving measure, this ease of use is crucial to allowing IT professionals to become proficient at using the software that is already installed in the environment they manage. Dolisy explained that, as DoD’s network continues to change through consolidation initiatives like the Joint Information Environment, the agency will need personnel to be able to quickly jump into tasks and become proficient at them.

“You’re going to start seeing a younger IT work force who look for intuitive software, especially as consolidation initiatives provide IT pros with more customers than before,” he said. “But by implementing easy to use tools, productivity will be easier to achieve.”

Thankfully, Dolisy sees solutions entering the market to fill these needs. “If you look at the military IT market over the past several years, it’s evolved dramatically along three axes,” he said. “You see software that is a lot more usable, dual-use tools that serve multiple use cases with the same data set, and interoperability as a key feature.” SolarWinds focuses on ensuring all of these aspects are covered and that their solutions come together in a cohesive, deployable portfolio.

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Photo Credit: Flickr/U.S. Department of Defense

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