Modernizing IT Architecture

Meeting modern mission requirements with legacy technology and infrastructure isn’t easy. A 20-year-old application may not be compatible with surrounding infrastructure, and it is probably less secure than modern applications. Likewise, an older firewall lacks the granular controls agencies need to specify what users can and cannot access.

According to the GAO, the federal government is replete with critical legacy systems in need of modernization. Some use outdated languages, others have unsupported hardware and software, and many have known security vulnerabilities.

Agencies that have identified systems ripe for modernization are making strides toward realizing upgrades. By making wise procurement decisions, organizations ensure that components meet regulatory requirements and advance mission requirements.

Smart cloud adoption

Cloud-based technologies benefit organizations by improving operations’ costs, scalability, security and efficiency. But not every application, service, platform or infrastructure component is a good candidate for migration to the cloud. Recognizing this, the “Cloud Smart” approach prompts agencies to identify workloads that should move to the cloud.

“It’s important to understand what the agency is currently running, where it is running, the associated service-level agreements (SLA), the uptime required for various workloads, and the sensitivity of those workloads,” explains Steve Thamasett, a senior security field solution architect at CDW·G.

Those insights help identify workloads that should stay on-premises and those that should move to the cloud. What about an older, custom-written application that is important to an agency’s operations? It may make sense to keep it on-premises. How about a mission-critical application requiring 100 percent uptime that’s not possible with a pure cloud solution? A hybrid environment might make more sense.

Mining mountains of data

Data has become the lifeblood of federal government. Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze data allows agencies to better predict and prevent adverse events, improve decision-making, increase efficiencies, save money and improve service to citizens.

Nowhere is this more important than in cybersecurity. A persistent time gap typically exists between the infiltration of systems by hackers and attacks on those systems. It is critical to detect when breaches are occurring and to predict when they will occur.

Artificial intelligence and analytics can correlate actions that, although seemingly innocuous by themselves, appear suspect when considered in context. AI, machine learning and analytics help to thwart advanced techniques adopted by hackers for breaching systems’ defenses.

These technologies can winnow potential threats to the few that deserve human attention. For lowerlevel threats, agencies have the option of automating processes that handle them without human intervention.

While security is arguably the most important use of artificial intelligence and data analytics, agencies are finding many ways to use these technologies. The VA is incorporating AI in several projects to reduce wait time, monitor customer service and predict patient outcomes. The State Department is using data analytics and machine learning to better understand what is happening at posts throughout the world — and to better understand the technology that will be needed in the future.

A culture of sharing

The President’s Management Agenda notes that agencies must think differently about how they collaborate across the federal government, including collaboration within agencies and with external partners.

The concept of sharing information to improve results is hardly new, but mechanisms for doing it safely have changed. Sending unencrypted, unsecured email files is no longer acceptable, for example.

Collaboration requires a balance between ease of use and security. Even if an agency relies on cloud-based collaboration tools — asynchronous (non real-time) and synchronous (real-time) collaboration software, conferencing tools, coordination software, and project tools — those tools must allow agencies to control authorization and access.

Before implementing any new technology, it’s important to understand your agency’s priorities, restrictions and compliance issues. The key is determining the right use cases and technology that will work well with the agency’s priorities, Thamasett says.

Computing at the edge

Edge computing is a way of storing and processing data closer to the sensors, edge servers and users’ computers where it was created. For an emergency warning, there may not be time for data to be sent to the cloud. In other cases, it’s a compliance issue. There are times, for example, when uploading data to the cloud might present privacy or data security issues. Using local sensors can address that problem by allowing agencies to collect real-time information and transmit data via edge computing devices.

Edge computing is not appropriate for all situations. It is critical to choose edge devices capable of operating in prevailing conditions. To understand appropriate use cases and devices, consider working with a partner who has expertise in edge computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT and public sector requirements.

Modernizing IT architecture won’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t have to happen all at once. To determine what should be modernized and on what timeline, start by evaluating your current environment and mapping it to mission requirements, Thamasett advises. There will probably be areas where current technology is not meeting those requirements.

NASA’s long-standing Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) contract helps federal agencies to deal with those challenges. SEWP has earned a reputation for fast delivery, low fees and exemplary customer service. And its huge array of products and services — software, Infrastructure and Platform as a Service offerings, data analytics, Internet of Things devices and other cutting-edge technologies, as well as procurement planning, installation, training, maintenance and engineering services, etc., — helps agencies to modernize their  IT architectures.