Tech's future is managing data, not devices

If there is a simple way to sum up what government technology practices will look like in five years, it is that agency IT departments will be busy managing data, not devices.

Agencies will get to that point in part through a series of deliberate decisions, such as buying certain kinds of prepackaged data center capabilities and not buying personal computing devices for every end user, several industry experts said.

But agencies will also move to a more-data, less-device future by default because the huge streams of data they will pump out, store, move around and act on will be an inevitable by-product of a hyper-connected workplace and society.

That relentless growth of data will lead to huge management challenges, said Yogesh Khanna, vice president and chief technology officer of IT infrastructure solutions at CSC's North American Public Sector. The current buzzword for this trend is “big data.” In the next few years, agencies will be busy learning the big-data basics, such as how to store data most efficiently, categorize it and preserve it according to policy requirements, Khanna said.

Five years from now, agency leaders will have moved on to a new challenge: fine-tuning the methods they use to turn all that data into tools that can support real-time decision-making, said Andras Szakal, vice president and CTO at IBM U.S. Federal. For example, military leaders could use advanced analytical systems, such as IBM’s Watson supercomputer, to quickly understand how to modify their complex supply chains in order to deploy forces and equipment during different mobilization scenarios, Szakal said.

CIOs will have more time to focus on building those kinds of analytical and decision-support systems because they will spend much less time picking just the right servers, storage systems, networks and software, and trying to get them to work together.

“These questions drive most CIOs crazy because you’re spending tons of resources integrating infrastructure instead of solving business problems today,” Szakal said.

In five years, agencies will buy selected cloud-based infrastructure services from third-party providers, which will reduce their system ownership and management work.

Khanna said the accelerating commoditization of IT infrastructure will enable cloud providers to offer raw computing power, storage and connectivity practically for free. “People will offer it for pennies on the dollar,” he said.

The remaining in-house IT infrastructure that agencies will operate will increasingly be in the form of pre-integrated solution stacks that combine hardware, connectivity, management software and built-in security services — a “data center in a box,” Szakal said.

Moreover, he predicts that industry consolidation will result in as few as three vendors capable of delivering those kinds of solutions.

Early versions of converged infrastructure products are starting to become available and are increasingly attractive to agency leaders who want to modernize and consolidate their data centers, said Deniece Peterson, senior manager of federal industry analysis at Input. But those moves will be governed, as always, by budget issues.

“The thing with government IT is you have what they plan to do and what they are actually doing, so it makes it difficult to forecast,” Peterson said.

Read more of Federal IT's next act or return to the 2011 Federal List.

About the Author

John Zyskowski is a senior editor of Federal Computer Week. Follow him on Twitter: @ZyskowskiWriter.

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