By Craig Heartwell, CTO of Presidio Federal
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur Clarke’s famous adage from 1962 is even more true today. For the government IT customer, the pace of technological advance presents a massive opportunity to transform obsolete networks to better support the mission.
Of course, advanced technology isn’t magic. It’s important to understand what is going on “underneath the hood.” The government customer isn’t going to spend much time understanding the technology behind the curtain, and he or she shouldn’t have to. When I go to the doctor I don’t expect to understand everything, but I understand the goal of my improved health.
Today it’s the job of the value-added reseller (VAR) to understand the technology that almost seems like magic. The VAR needs to provide the government customer with technology insight, trends and strategies that maximize both immediate impact and long-term viability.
This more strategic role doesn’t come naturally to VARs. Historically they have engaged the government customer at a more tactical level, selling software licenses, storage and point solutions. They’ve performed this role well and continue to do so. But now they need to become a true technology partner to government and help agencies chart a strategic course for adopting next-generation technology.
To move forward wisely, agencies need help looking beyond immediate IT pain points. For example, it’s straightforward to simply migrate an existing workload to the cloud. Yet if agency leaders are too focused on a specific catalyst for the move – be it performance, compliance, cybersecurity or going CapEx to OpEx – they could miss out on new service and new capabilities enabled by the cloud. And future technology advances might make such a piecemeal approach inefficient.
New capabilities that could transform existing workloads include enabling Big Data analysis. Truly exploiting the vast amounts of data that the government has is a tremendous opportunity. Government should also be looking to adopt robotic process automation (RPA) more broadly. Automating routine processes means liberating employees for more creative and fulfilling work.
Cloud Giants Changing Everything
The new kind of VAR can assist government clients in understanding the move of the large cloud service providers (CSPs) toward customer solutions. Already the CSPs have affected the legacy VAR model by greatly reducing the need for hardware licenses. The development of customer solutions will further impact the government market, presenting both challenges and opportunities for agencies.
VARs need to look down the road and understand the ramifications of trends like the giant CSPs developing customized infrastructure. AWS has been working for years on producing everything in-house, beginning with purchasing a chip manufacturer in 2015. That purchase and continued advances have led to AWS’s Graviton processor and its Nitro offering, a combination of dedicated hardware and a lightweight hypervisor.
Moving functionality from software to hardware has major ramifications for performance and security. Hardware produced and offered by AWS represents a sealed supply chain, and encryption levels can be greatly increased with no impact on performance. On the flip side, the farther a government customer goes down the CSP customized road the more issues such as data portability and vendor lock need to be evaluated.
VARs can’t effectively help agencies with cloud migration if they can’t visualize the journey. The cloud is so much more than “another place to run your workloads or store your stuff.” They need to help the customer understand the steps along the way. Presidio Federal views these stages as Cloud Essential, Cloud Empowered and Cloud Extreme. Each stage offers opportunities to improve IT functionality and performance.
Embrace the Change
The greatest risk today to government networks is not the misuse of technology – it’s not keeping up with the pace of change. Starting with the Cloud First strategy released in 2011 and continuing with Cloud Smart in 2018, the federal government has demonstrated recognition of the significance of and need for cloud technology in government IT. After two years of slow progress, in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated cloud adoption from an opportunity to a necessity.
Agencies need help turning these strategies into reality. The legacy VAR model has served government customers well and won’t change overnight. But government needs VARs to have technological expertise and a more strategic mindset to provide the “value add” needed today. That’s when the magic of government IT transformation will really happen.