Certificate of Attendance

Every previous generation intimates that its circumstances were more difficult than the present and for each there are storied and anecdotal ways of relating the harsher state of affairs: “when I was your age, I had to walk to school, both ways, up hill, in the snow, without any shoes” or “when I was your age, if I wanted to talk with a friend, I rode my bike down the block – we didn’t text or have iChat”. Everyone has heard (or even postulated) a similar maxim. Fables like this have a innate method of self-perpetuating and there is rarely a clean demarcation point where an individual can insert themselves and inspect “what it used to be like” vs. “what it us today”. I’m fortunate that I have a very simple but powerful one to share: The Certificate of Attendance.

I believe the Certificate of Attendance to be one of the common era, feel good awards, designed to foster a sense of inclusion. You didn’t earn an A. No problem. Didn’t do your homework? Not your fault. Don’t feel left out – you were along for the ride while others contributed in a meaningful manner. The Certificate of Attendance, it doesn’t say much other than you bothered to show up, at the appointed time, consistently for a given date range.

My generation didn’t really have these ostensible awards, bet yours didn’t either but we’re all too familiar with them.

I’ve been intentionally sequestered and not blogging for the last sixty days or so working diligently on planning for this and the next business cycle. An incredible amount has occurred in those short 8 weeks. Highlights:

• Federal Government has issued the ground cover for every CIO to bring cloud to their enterprise missions
• Cyber, and Cloud are coming together in exciting and scary ways
• Mobile Tablet Sales outpaced PC sales
• Google said “oops” to 150,000 cloud users
• Amazon decided to pick a public fight with Netflix

And most notable over the last sixty days or so
• Over $2Billion in cloud M+A activity occurred driving sector and provider consolidation at crazy multiples

Some of the acquisition targets were worthwhile, with solid balance sheets, customer demanded IP and strong vertical growth engines. Exciting stuff. We’ll talk about how these acquisitions are going to shape the way that cloud services will be delivered in your environment.

A handful though were laggards and simply….received their Certificates of Attendance

2010 big year for the government cloud

I hope all my readers had an enjoyable holiday, and are gearing up for the New Year. 2010 has been a big year of progress towards the government cloud, so I thought a  retrospective post highlighting the progress was very much in order.

When I launched this blog I warned readers my “head was in the clouds,” and I’m happy to report that condition seems to finally be catching on in government. Back in late August, the GAO called government cloud adoption “inevitable” when implemented correctly. This fall the momentum continued, with the GSA approving 11 companies for a BPA to offer cloud services to government agencies via the Apps.gov portal site.

Right around Thanksgiving, the Administration asked agencies to officially codify a new approach to IT challenges. Whenever a new IT project is deemed necessary, agencies should take a “cloud first” mentality to getting the job done. This should result in much greater efficiencies and a lot of taxpayer money saved.

Now let me make clear that while I’m very jazzed about the government cloud, I’m not blind to the objections and obstacles to adoption. To call out two specific examples — I’ve blogged about how to maintain total control of your data while moving to the cloud, and I’ve talked about the need to improve security accreditation. FedRAMP is a great start, but it needs to be improved before security certification stops being a major roadblock to cloud adoption.

Overall however, I think you’d have to say that the forecast for government cloud adoption in 2011 is partly sunny and improving. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!) Best wishes for a happy new year!

IT solutions are not helicopters…

We all know the pace of innovation in technology. New technologies are coming out daily and making the technologies developed the day before obsolete. If you’re going to purchase IT systems or solutions, you have to do it quickly, or the solutions you’re purchasing may no longer be worth the investment by the time it’s approved, purchased and integrated.

In this environment, it would seem counterproductive to handle the acquisition of IT solutions, such as cloud services, the same way you would, say, a new military helicopter. Sadly, that’s the way that the Department of Defense has been purchasing IT solutions for the past three decades.

According to a recent Federal News Radio article, the DoD is working to diverge and differentiate the IT acquisition process from the process for acquiring weapons systems. In fact, they recently released a 19 page report that was mandated by the 2010 Defense Authorization Bill and outlines the steps that they’re going to take to streamline the acquisition process for IT.

The DoD currently funds IT projects through three distinct appropriations (research and development, procurement, and operations and maintenance), which is designed more for weapons systems rather than IT. In the report, they state that this might need to become more flexible for IT, since not all solutions need to be custom developed and some can be purchased off the shelf.

The DoD is also toying with the idea of a non-expiring revolving fund for IT. Congress would still control which projects would be paid for with the fund, but DoD officials could authorize programs and give Congress a heads-up after the fact.

Also recommended was a shift in how the Pentagon approaches its IT spending. Currently, large projects and systems are developed and acquired over a long time frame. The new mentality would have the Pentagon approve funding based on desired capabilities, which means funding could be shifted to new products or services that have proven they can provide the capabilities desired. They will also shift the focus onto short-duration, “incremental” IT projects.

The way the DoD was developing and acquiring IT solutions was broken and forcing the agency as a whole to move much slower than the private sector in adoption of new, beneficial IT solutions. With new technological advances, such as the cloud, becoming more widely embraced and adopted due to their ability to make organizations more effective and efficient, it was time for the DoD to make a change and find a way to move at the speed of innovation.

Be all that you can be…in the cloud

Lynn Schnurr, the director of Intelligence Community Information Management for the Army Intelligence Chief Information Officer, gave a presentation at the Army IT Day in Vienna, Va. earlier this month.

During her presentation, she discussed a handful of new technologies and initiatives that the Army is currently developing to help the warfighter on the battlefield and make their entire branch of the armed services operate better and more efficiently.

The Land Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance network remains a priority for the Army. They’re also working on bringing improved biometric data to the soldier on the battlefield.

The Army is even toying around with some pretty wicked headgear to make the warfighter better. According to an article in Defense Systems Magazine, a prototype technology will provide soldiers with smart sunglasses that enable them to capture images of enemy combatants and record their voices for analysis and identification matching.

Even with all of this cool, futuristic technology being developed for the warfighter, one of the largest innovations that could have the biggest impact on the Army is not on the battlefield- it’s in the cloud. Well…it IS the cloud.

In an attempt to operate more effectively and efficiently, the Army is looking to consolidate their hundreds of datacenters for intelligence analysis and storage into just three facilities (Wiesbaden, Germany; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Hawaii). These three facilities will interact and coordinate with other intelligence community data facilities so that the Army can avoid storing data that can be accessed from other government sources.

The Army also wants to utilize their intelligence cloud efforts to reuse software. This is expected to increase operational flexibility and cut costs.

The Army’s shift to the cloud will help them become exponentially more efficient. They’ll be able to dramatically reduce the cost of excessive and unneeded datacenters while more effectively sharing resources with other intelligence agencies. They’ll also see a significant decrease in the time it takes to develop and implement new software.

What can the cloud do for your agency?

Get the most out of the cloud with bandwidth acceleration

In a previous post on GovCloudTalk, we discussed the steps that government agencies can take towards embracing cloud computing.

During the course of the shift to the cloud, resources across multiple datacenters are aggregated and work as a single resource pool. Unfortunately, many datacenter managers overlook the actual physics of moving the data between those datacenters or to the edge, where the user community exists.

The physical act of moving this data from datacenter to datacenter, or from datacenter to the end user, requires bandwidth. This bandwidth can cost a lot of money. Many agencies looking to move to the cloud are doing so to save money, this makes having to purchase additional bandwidth counterproductive.

These agencies would rather get the most out of their bandwidth providers and utilize their current investments before investing more. Luckily, there’s technology available that allows them to do so, called network and bandwidth acceleration technologies.

There are a handful of network and bandwidth acceleration technologies that exist in the marketplace today, including solutions offered by Riverbed, Cisco, Silver Peak, Asankya, Aspera and a host of other companies. These technologies work as an extension of existing infrastructure and exist on the customer’s premises, within their datacenters.

Cloud adopters are just starting to realize that network acceleration devices could help them transmit data between datacenters and to the edge without having to make an additional investment in extra bandwidth. In fact, some cloud users are starting to think that they should be included in cloud services and packages since they’re becoming a fundamental part of a cloud infrastructure solution.

Regardless of whether network and bandwidth acceleration devices begin to become bundled with cloud service solutions, they are an increasingly instrumental part of an agency or organization getting the most out of embracing the cloud. When looking to make the switch to the cloud, don’t overlook the benefits of including bandwidth acceleration as part of your overall design and planning.

Is the new government cloud directive a red flag for IT workers?

As we’ve discussed in the past, Obama’s technology team, including Vivek Kundra, the country’s CIO, is looking for ways in which the federal government can improve its IT acquisition process and adopt technologies that can make the government operate more effectively and efficiently.

Last Thursday, Kundra announced a series of steps that the government is planning to take to streamline how the government tests and purchases new IT technologies and to help drive down the cost of IT within the federal government.

Included in the plan was a directive for agencies to look to cloud services first to handle increasing data demand. Also included was a directive to reduce the existing number of datacenters in the federal government from 2,100 by approximately 800 datacenters.

The end result of this plan will be a sharing of resources between agencies. For example, if a datacenter is being underutilized by one agency, they will be encouraged to share those resources with another agency in need. Civilian agencies will increasingly make the shift to cloud service providers. Other agencies, such as those responsible for defense and homeland security, will most likely increase their adoption of private cloud solutions that provide all of the benefits of the cloud with fewer security concerns.

The agencies that will see the largest economic gains from their switch to the cloud will be the civilian agencies. These agencies will see a large portion of their IT spends switch from hardware purchases, maintenance and operations to infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

Currently, service, maintenance and operations expenses account for over 70 percent of their budgets, while 10-15 percent goes towards growth and a small fraction goes to innovation. A switch to the cloud will invert that pyramid of expenses and significantly cut down on the downstream expenses, freeing up IT budget dollars for innovation and other more mission-critical tasks.

Unfortunately, not all IT employees at federal agencies see this as a positive thing. After all, if your job is to “keep the lights on,” the switch to a cloud environment could be considered a major assault on your position.

For these individuals, it’s an alarming wakeup call for what’s coming down the pike. Cloud services provide such value and can so drastically reduce operating expenses that the switch has become an inevitability in the federal government. Instead of looking at cloud services as threats to their jobs, federal workers should instead be looking at them as an opportunity to shift towards more mission critical work.

To help in the transition, government agencies are going to have to reeducate staff and move IT people from being maintainers of the datacenter to architects of the cloud. In an effort to help the process, EMC and other vendors in the market are collaborating on a vendor net-neutral curriculum and certification process.

Government IT professionals shouldn’t be viewing the shift to the cloud as competitive or negative. It is, in fact, providing them with an avenue in which to be more innovative and provide added value to their agency and its mission. With government pay frozen for the next two years, it also gives them an opportunity to educate themselves, become more valuable and go up a pay grade. The benefits of the cloud and its ability to help agencies operate better and more cost effectively are making cloud computing the future of government IT. Now’s the time to step up and stop just “keeping the lights on.”

American innovation takes another one on the chin

America was always the nation that built things. We were the leaders in innovation and research. We made the first automobile on a mass production assembly line. We invented the telephone. We sent the first man to the moon. Heck, we invented the pop-up toaster (seriously…look it up).

Unfortunately, our country has been losing its edge in the world of research and development (R&D). As science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education has fallen behind and other global industrial powers have emerged, we’ve started to lose our reputation as an innovator.

Last December, something happened that could finally stick a fork in America as the world’s center of science, innovation and R&D. Surprisingly, it’s flown under the radar and many Americans aren’t really aware of it. The R&D tax credits, which have powered innovation and research in our country for nearly three decades, were allowed to expire and have yet to be extended by Congress.

Now, we’re all aware that the government is currently in a bit of a financial bind and facing a $1.3 trillion deficit. Regardless, the government is practically ensuring that America remains behind in innovation and invention by not sustaining the R&D tax credits.

The R&D tax credits allows medium-sized and large companies to spend multiple year’s worth of money all at once on new technologies that they’re looking to bring to market and then deduct that figure from applicable corporate taxes. This is important because the largest part of the innovation process involves funding and paying smart people to conduct R&D.

If there is no guidance and consistency on the tax credits, it could seriously damage a company or sector’s ability to innovate.

What’s worse, if there’s no net tax credit, companies will have to reconsider how and where they do their R&D. This could lead them to move R&D and innovation to other countries or jurisdictions that have more favorable taxes and treatment for R&D spending.

This means that R&D and innovation dollars go to nations like China or India that are competing with us in the global economy. But there’s another problem with these product development lifecycles going through nations like China.

Our government takes away the R&D tax credits and then pays a company to innovate or invent something. That company is conducting its R&D in China, India or somewhere else. However, our government has already said that they don’t trust product lifecycles that run through these countries.

To have exquisite supply chains, R&D needs to be conducted in America. The R&D tax credits, or something similar, need to be kept in place for American companies to remain innovative and for the government’s supply chain excellence to remain in tact.

Some of the most innovative companies in America spend 10-15% of their revenue on R&D. That’s an activity that we want to continue. If we’re going to continue to create the cloud technologies, IT solutions and other advances that will power our government and economy into the future, Congress needs to extend these tax credits and get America innovating again!

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