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When Old-School IT Holds Back Digital Transformation

IT modernization in the form of digital transformation is one of the most daunting challenges encountered by government agencies today. Challenges include:

  • The scale and scope of digitization
  • The interconnectedness of affected assets
  • The upheaval of traditional IT processes and workflows
  • Outdated security policies developed for legacy technologies

Moreover, agencies frequently lack in-house expertise and other resources needed to execute a smooth, large-scale digital transformation.

On the way to modernization, fallacies and challenges bedevil the journey. Most pervasive, perhaps, is the seductive notion that simply putting IT assets into the cloud somehow constitutes meaningful digital advancement. Attempting to modernize the enterprise by way of a “rip and replace” strategy is tempting. In practice, however, an incremental, evolutionary approach often yields better results.

“Just because you take a production-grade application that was traditionally deployed in a data center and you transport it into a cloud environment, that does not make it cloud-native. You’re not going to see many of the inherent benefits – elasticity, scalability and high availability – until you actually modernize the architecture beneath the layer, beneath the stack,” said Brandon Gulla, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at SUSE RGS.

“It’s much like taking an old barn car and putting a new coat of paint on it,” Gulla said. “Underneath the hood, you’re still going to have that same misfiring engine.”

Much of the challenge exists at the foundational level of legacy IT, notably tightly configured legacy architectures that weren’t built for flexibility and nimbleness. It’s not unusual to encounter tight coupling of services and components in legacy applications that are designed to only work with each other.

“Countless software architectures within the federal community right now are monolithic in design,” Gulla said. “We’re seeing with cloud-native strategies and architectures that for scalability, you need to decouple facets of individual applications to work elastically in the cloud.”

Solution: A Unified Cloud Ecosystem

The answer is loosening the tightly bound architectures of legacy systems and reconfiguring assets old and new into seamless multi- and hybrid cloud solutions.

In this more dynamic environment, data and applications move and communicate easily across what would otherwise be disparate, low-accessibility environments. Using open-source tools and technology, such as Kubernetes, agencies can easily build and automate management of cloud-native applications.

The upshot is highly responsive, modernized IT enterprises that are better able to advance missions.

“At SUSE RGS, we extend all of the features of the traditional cloud and allow you to take advantage of those types of architectures, no matter if you’re running in a cloud, on your own hardware or in your own data center, all the way down to the tactical edge with a single board computer,” Gulla said.

Agencies tend to adopt cloud-native architectures in three waves, Gulla said.

“Pathfinder-type organizations in the intelligence community are eager to adopt ‘bleeding edge technology,’ including advanced DevSecOps initiatives such as Platform One (Air Force) and Black Pearl (Navy) that invigorate attainment of critical missions,” Gulla said.

Next to embrace cloud-native approaches are more traditional DoD shops. “Where open-source technologies provided the acceleration to cloud native, agencies are now looking for more of an enterprise approach to those cloud-native technologies,” Gulla said of this cohort.

Finally, more risk-averse civilian agencies are “looking at mature products for managed services and FedRAMP approval,” he said. “That’s where we’re starting to see more interest in cloud-native technologies.”

“It all begins when agencies embrace the modularity of software components,” Gulla said. “Agencies are seeing benefits of that in software architectures, and they’re starting to apply those same concepts to the organizational units or teams that are creating these applications. … They’re actually breeding a culture of innovation.”

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Unlocking Digital Transformation Through Cloud-Native Applications.” Download the full report here.

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