Federal IT Managers Get New Tools for Hammering Out Innovations

E-Commerce buzz words sound great in theory, but innovation often founders on the shoals of “getting there from here” as IT managers slog through the details of converting to new systems and programs.

There has been a significant of amount of buzz at the federal level as agencies have been turning to shared services, data consolidation, commodity IT and, especially, the cloud. Directives to reform IT have been flying out of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at regular intervals for the past 18 months.

Vendors offering improved email systems, virtualization capabilities, search services, server conversion and cloud computing envision solid marketing opportunities at federal agencies for the next several years, as the government upgrades its IT portfolio.

A key aspect for implementing change is acquiring the tools that bring change about. One of those tools is Application Performance Management (APM), according to Compuware, which maintains that federal agencies will benefit from increasing their use of APM to meet IT reform requirements.

“As the government drives initiatives to consolidate data centers, agency silos, and resources to improve the flow of information between government, agencies, states and citizens, this new generation APM will provide the service assurance needed to confidently execute these projects,” Ron Wilson, director of strategic business development at Compuware APM, told the E-Commerce Times.

Faster, Better Performance Potential

Federal IT reform provides not only a potential market for APM vendors, but also a showcase for the technology to spur adoption in the private sector.

APM essentially is a software tool that can monitor and measure the performance of computer applications, especially related to the end user’s objectives. APM programs can help diagnose and resolve problems, reduce errors and inefficiencies, and do so on a continuous basis. Instead of waiting for problems to emerge and then experiencing delays while making a fix, IT managers can track performance and resolve issues much faster with an APM continuous feedback system.

“This type of monitoring and management is different than the classic old style of IT management, which was ‘when something breaks, tell me, and then I’ll go and figure out how to fix it.’ It is a proactive, predictive approach so that users aren’t impacted when things go wrong, which they inevitably will,” said Wilson.

“The federal sector can benefit greatly from APM, because it will enable agencies to deliver a great customer experience while maintaining operational consistency. This is actually one of the mandates from the federal CIO,” he added.

“The federal government is ahead of the curve in moving to the cloud, and the cloud is a volatile, highly distributed environment that will require APM solutions suitable for monitoring nodes that spin up and spin down based on capacity needs,” Jyoti Bansal, founder and CEO of AppDynamics, told the E-Commerce Times.

Compuware saw enough potential federal APM business that it recently issued a five-page white paper extolling the benefits of the software for federal agencies.

“Unlike private industry, federal agencies do not have the luxury of adding headcount, increasing budgets, and expanding IT assets to address underperforming applications. In fact, agencies are increasingly asked to do more with less — all while ensuring transparency, improving citizen services, enhancing performance and increasing accountability,” the paper says.

As a result, a good majority of the reform initiatives for federal IT will involve data center consolidation, virtualization, or server refreshes that leverage the latest in computing capacity, power savings and reduced cost. As is the case with many new initiatives, these types of federal IT projects often run over budget, are behind schedule, or fail to deliver promised functionality, according to Compuware.

Its APM solutions deliver unified dashboards, comprehensive end-user experience metrics, and deep-dive analytics capabilities to quickly identify and help remedy slow or malfunctioning applications that risk the failure of mission-critical goals, the company said.

The product gives federal agencies a comprehensive view of application performance from code level to the multitiered data center, and on the Internet to individual end-user browsers. The solution provides agencies the flexibility to define and monitor service level agreement metrics, maintained Compuware.

Compuware is not alone in offering APM solutions. A recent Gartner study, for example, assessed 29 APM vendors.

“No single vendor has a majority stake in any vertical market, including federal space. The reality is, most organizations don’t have any APM solution. They prefer to fly blind — which is like driving a jet without having a cockpit or instrumentation. So yes, there are opportunities for other vendors,” AppDynamics’ Bansal said.

Those opportunities include room for smaller software providers.

“The applications that federal agencies are building for adopting the cloud rapidly are built on service-oriented architectures and agile development practices. The big guys have not innovated rapidly enough to provide APM for these new application architectures, and many of these agencies are now looking at best-of-breed innovative technologies to deal with their application management challenges, such as those we offer,” suggested Bansal.

APM Market Shows Growth Spurt

The visible campaign to reform federal IT — and the potential exposure of APM as a facilitating tool for reform — could spur the use of the technology elsewhere. APM has been kicking around for 20 years, but it has moved to the forefront in the last few years, according to Compuware’s Wilson.

A rapid maturation has occurred due to changing application architectures such as Rich Internet Architecture (RIA), Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), and Web 2.0, coupled with cloud computing. While these new technologies offer businesses new competitive advantages and agility, they create a new layer of complexity and abstraction for IT.

“Now, in order for IT to provide service assurance to the business, a new generation of APM that can see all aspects of a transaction end-to-end is needed,” Wilson said.

The technology is beginning to take off, according to Gartner. Almost US$2 billion was spent on APM adoption worldwide in 2011 — a 15 percent increase from 2010.

The Federal Buzz

Capitol Hill Broadband: The federal government needs to do a better job of managing the airwaves it uses for wireless services, not only to save money but to make broadband spectrum more available to the private sector.

“As the largest single spectrum user, the federal government could save taxpayers money and provide its own agencies better technology tools while simultaneously making more frequencies available to meet America’s exploding demand for mobile broadband services,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

Walden has formed the Federal Spectrum Working Group to examine how the federal government can use the nation’s airwaves more efficiently.

“This working group will take a comprehensive, thoughtful, and responsible look at how to improve federal spectrum use as part of our effort to make the most efficient and effective use of the public’s airwaves,” said Walden, who will chair the bipartisan group.

“Spectrum is the key ingredient for faster, more ubiquitous wireless broadband, spurring unprecedented growth in new online applications and services,” said co-chair Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

“We need a comprehensive approach to spectrum policy,” she said.

DOE Adds IT Veteran: Donald Adcock has joined the Department of Energy as associate CIO for energy information technology services. Adcock transferred to DoE in early April from the Defense Department, where he served as executive director of the U.S. Army Information Technology Agency.

Adcock also led a $6.5 billion IT acquisition program as an executive with the Defense Intelligence Agency. At DoE, he will be responsible for strategic leadership and operational oversight of the department’s primary IT infrastructure and for implementing the CIO’s services transformation activities.

John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.

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