Cloud Computing

Making the most of the cloud: A software-defined approach

Image from Shutterstock.

Cloud computing has become ubiquitous for the federal IT workforce, as many if not most agencies have begun to move functions like email or data storage into the cloud. But approaching cloud as a software-defined environment is still a relatively new concept in government.

A software-defined approach holistically automates network, computing and storage capabilities and opens the lines of communication between them, according to Anil Karmel, founder and CEO of C2 Labs Inc. and former deputy chief technology officer at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

"Just because your email is in the cloud, doesn't mean you're taking a software-defined approach, because there's no systems to automate. You're just consuming the service," Karmel said.

Essentially, software-defined environments break down the silos between network, storage and computing capabilities. And in times of tight budgets, agencies are beginning to adopt the software-defined approach to delivering IT services in order to automate and improve on the infrastructure they already have in place.

Jane Snowdon, IBM Federal's chief innovation officer, said a software-defined environment is really about moving control from the hardware layer to the software layer of an IT system.

What's that mean?

In traditional IT environments, there is a separate way of managing compute, network and storage capabilities, and most operations are done manually -- a human being is reconfiguring storage and the area network.

Software-defined environments also offer a more secure universe for servers and services to operate in. By centralizing the infrastructure to one location, organizations are less vulnerable to attacks on multiple locations, according to Snowdon.

Rather than having distributed infrastructure in several locations, like multiple data centers housing servers, in a software-defined environment it is all in the cloud.

"By leveraging a software-defined approach, you can deliver an enhanced security posture by protecting data in the organization and across cloud services providers," Karmel said.

More from FCW

Much ado about milCloud

The Energy and Defense departments have taken software-defined approaches in their clouds. DOE's YOURcloud enables software-defined security that covers network, storage and compute resources, as well as allowing programs within DOE to maintain full control of their workloads as part of a common security baseline. And Los Alamos National Laboratory announced in June it would be moving data on its test results of the U.S. nuclear stockpile to a software-defined storage model, through a contract with Scality.

The Defense Information Systems Agency's milCloud has similar features. The milCloud portfolio has resource pooling, a virtual data center, rapid elasticity and on-demand self-service features, according to the DISA website.

In addition to security benefits, there are also quantifiable cost savings to be gained by a software-defined environment, Karmel and Snowdon said.

More from FCW

Much ado about milCloud

"If you have an existing IT project, by leveraging a software-defined approach agencies can deliver more services on the same amount of hardware," Karmel said. "Delivering services more quickly and improving security posture is actionable and measurable, and possible through a software-defined approach."

Karmel described the cost savings as "dramatic" for agencies thinking about moving to a more software-based approach.

"It's inherently where government is making its investment," Karmel said. "Understanding and finding the right balance between security, privacy and functionality, and leveraging a software-defined approach allow you to really change the way you manage security in a cloud connected enterprise."

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above