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As the federal government adopts a more data-driven culture, agencies need better ways to interact with data through storage that is secure, simple, fast, and accessible.

Federal agencies have a rich trove of data that continues to grow in volume and at a rapid pace. Externally, the government looks like a monolith. But the government is a mosaic of agencies with its own funding, own systems, and own data silos. There must be a way to unify those silos. That means having the right infrastructure in place to help the government workforce leverage data to make informed decisions faster.

A challenge for many agencies is still the need to balance the burden of legacy IT with demands to rapidly meet pressing mission needs. To overcome this challenge, there are five IT priorities or principles that must be addressed. According to Nick Psaki, Principal System Engineer for North American Federal, Pure Storage, government agencies must adopt these to successfully move toward a more modern data experience. Those priorities, Psaki says, include security, simplicity, scalability, sustainment/support, and speed.

Security: First and last

Security is always first.  There is an old axiom in the Army: "Security first and last." Recent cyber incidents have pushed security and data protection to the top of many agencies' priority lists, such as the rise of ransomware attacks on state and local governments and critical infrastructure, nation-state adversaries targeting the supply chain, and the need to comply with government data privacy and information security regulations.

"Having a storage infrastructure that is more secure; much simpler to install, operate, and maintain; and more scalable than the solutions agencies have today, allows them to reduce costs and space and better use resources," noted Psaki.   

Simplicity: Making infrastructure invisible

Federal agencies are looking for ways to leverage their data on-premises and move it, leverage it, and make it available across every infrastructure platform – including on-premises data service platforms, cloud-based platforms, and application services. The goal is to then make the implementation and utilization of those services invisible and infinite – so interwoven into the IT infrastructure fabric that the user intuitively knows that the data is there regardless of whether that data is on-premises or hosted in other infrastructures, according to Psaki. This way, agencies can focus on application service delivery, integration, and innovation.  

Scalability: Maintaining performance

Today agencies are dealing with petabytes or even exabytes of data, as well as hundreds of billions of different files running on various systems. The ability to compute and analyze big data sets drives the requirement for a higher degree of scalability. Thus, agencies require data service platforms with the ability to increase or decrease in performance and cost in response to changes in application and system processing demands.

Sustainment: Reducing the technical debt

"Data center consolidation and the reduction of power consumption, system footprint, cabling and complexity are all immense money savers," Psaki said. "If solution providers can help provide unparalleled sustainment and support for systems, agencies can reduce their technical debt."  

Federal agencies still struggle with the balancing act of maintaining existing systems while attempting to modernize their IT infrastructure. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report released in 2020 found that of the $90 billion the U.S. government spent on IT in fiscal year 2019, nearly 80 percent went toward operation and maintenance of existing systems.

That means if an agency has a $10 billion IT budget, $7 billion is being spent on maintenance of systems.  When you factor in budget for the workforce, then about $200 million is available for innovation. That is clearly not enough to enable agencies to do anything innovative. If agency IT managers can free up 30 percent of their budget, they can implement innovation at a faster rate.  

"Keep in mind, data accounts for a big portion of the IT budget," said Psaki. "A data storage infrastructure that enables the workforce to leverage all their data in the most effective and affordable way possible will make funding for transformation via sources like the Technology Modernization Fund more meaningful."

Speed: Transforming data into knowledge

Data services are the most critical component of an enterprise IT infrastructure. Security, simplicity, scalability, and sustainment of a data service architecture has a profound impact on speed. The faster analysts can transform data into information, intelligence, and knowledge, the more effective agencies can be in accomplishing missions or avoiding risks. "Therefore, the five IT priorities of security, simplicity, scalability, sustainment, and speed are critical factors agencies must address to modernize their data services," Psaki added. 

Bottom line

Data will continue to grow and evolve. This means the way agencies protect, manage and store data must evolve as well.  

For more information on this topic, tune into our Public Sector Tech Talk episode featuring our partners from Pure Storage on Thursday, September 23 at 2:00 PM ET, which will be archived on WWT's Public Sector Community Page; you can also access and stream our Primary Storage Briefing and Enterprise Storage Infrastructure Workshop.