Veeam Community Podcast
Veeam Community Podcast episode 10 – Federal IT with Tom Temin
In this episode, host Rick Vanover welcomes Tom Temin to discuss virtualization and other IT challenges facing federal IT environments. Tom lives near Washington, D.C. where he co-hosts the Federal Drive radio program on Federal News Radio WFED 1500 AM. Tom also writes the Temin on Tech blog and is the Editor in Chief at FedInsider.com, an online newsletter.
Tom is in the hot seat for “Three views from you.”
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Rick: Hello and welcome to the Veeam Community Podcast. I am your host Rick Vanover. This is Episode 10, "Federal IT" with Tom Temin. Here we go. Today our guest is Tom Temin. How you doing Tom?
Tom: Great to be with you.
Rick: All right. Well, hey, Tom I invited you up because you know a lot about federal IT and federal stuff. You're quite involved in the DC area with a lot federal programs. Tom is the co-host of the Federal Drive radio program with Amy Morris on Federal News Radio 1500 AM in Washington DC.
This guy doesn't stop there. He also has a personal blog, Temin on Tech at TTemin.wordpress.com. He is the Editor in Chief of FedInsider.com and is on Twitter @ttemin.
Wow, that's a lot of stuff Tom. Tell me a little bit about yourself, just give everybody a sense of what you do there and kind of your circle, the federal stuff.
Tom: Well, the big thing is, as you mentioned, hosting a weekday 6 to 10 in the morning radio show, and we interview a range of guests involved in federal programs, federal IT, federal policy making. We have everybody from CIOs to members of Congress on the show. We're part of a station that is dedicated to federal matters. It's the kind of radio station that could only exist in Washington. We have a big 50,000 watt signal, so you can hear to the far corners of the Beltway. Then my Fed Insider newsletter is my analysis of what's going on in federal IT. That's published by a company called Hosky & Company here in Washington. We come out with it every two weeks.
So, it adds up to be pretty busy, and I like to follow technology just because I think it's driving so much of the innovation happening in government.
Rick: Absolutely. Additionally to the, what you'd say 50,000 watt signal, you can also stream the segments online at Federal News Radio.
Tom: That's right.
Rick: In fact, I was listening to a really good one you had today about a huge initiative to digitize documents and stuff like that. There's just some really good stuff that he has from the big picture thing.
I want to talk a little bit about, I'm in the business of virtualization, okay, but I'm just trying to get a sense of the federal side of government and technology. Is there a big disconnect between, like, mainstream technology and what the government's doing? Or is it pretty similar? What would you say?
Tom: Well, I think the federal CIO and a lot of the current crop of CIOs feel that the federal government's a little bit behind the private sector. Actually, virtualization is one of those areas. But their interest is not virtualization per se, but the things that virtualization allows. They feel that their infrastructure costs are too high, that there's too much duplication of servers, of software programs. That it's very slow to provision new users. In fact, thanks to legislation that has passed in the last couple of years, such as financial overhaul, we're seeing the creation of whole new agencies, like the Consumer Credit Agency, that's still kind of being formed.
Just today, the Federal CIO said why should that agency have any infrastructure of its own? Why not buy everything it needs as a service? So that's not precisely virtualization, but it's related to it. But they're looking for those agencies that do have infrastructure to consolidate and to reduce the number of federal data centers by about a third. There are a couple of thousand of them. They think 500 or 600 could be eliminated and consolidated. So going hand-in-hand with that is the idea to virtualize there, so that you don't have to triple your acreage for the remaining data centers.
Rick: Well, that brings up a good point because to an outsider, and I'm not at all exposed to the workings of government technology generally speaking, but to the outsider, okay, you say federal government, so you think of a big organization. Okay, I think of a big organization I have five or six data centers. But the number of data centers you mentioned, that's incredibly large. On top of that a lot of the organizations aren't necessarily connected, right? So one group of the Senate, or one military operation, or one government agency, they don't share the same file server, email server, any of that stuff.
Tom: No, they don't. In fact, you'll find within some departments, say Homeland Security which is, well, it seems like a long time to us. It was formed eight years ago but it's really not an integrated entity at all, and they're the first to admit it. Every year there's congressional oversight that comes out that says, "Yeah, you're not integrated yet."
There might be 20, 30, 40 financial systems running in Homeland Security among the components. There might be dozens and dozens of separate email systems among the components. What you're seeing now is, well, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, they're starting to move towards outsourced Gmail type service or Sharepoint type service. Microsoft has a big deal and Google, they each have a big deal for a couple hundred thousand people to move to their platforms for federal email, and there's a lot that goes with that. You have to have facilities that are dedicated in the United States. They don't want the traffic moving on the servers outside and so forth.
Yes, in that sense they're catching up.
Tom: As they get rid of those data centers, I think you're going to see a lot of virtualization. I think you're going to see a lot of desktop virtualization, because they want to get out of this heavy, thick client refresh cycle which is very costly. They want to have device agnostic states for each user. They want to have the ability to control the image for each user, and so virtualized user images or desktops is really the way I think that they're going to be starting to move in the next couple of years.
Rick: That brings up a good point because a virtual desktop environment also does one very important benefit, it keeps your data in the data center.
Tom: Yes, it does.
Rick: As far as generally speaking, end state on desk. Of course, it's displayed through display protocols or something like that to an end point device. It would be a ubiquitous device, but it would be "accessed remotely," but in terms of data loss, that's also a big, big thing. So, yeah, there are a lot of, I guess, opportunities. Is that a good way to put it?
Tom: Yeah, and for people that are in the virtualization business, you're seeing many, many more people, more vendors spring up that are offering infrastructure as a service and virtualization as a service. It's not that there are that many brand new virtualization platforms being created. But the ones that are out there and popular are finding more and more partners that are putting together different packages with those virtualization packages at the center of it. Putting together bundles that they can offer as a service.
Rick: For sure.
Tom: I've seen a lot of new vendors that are just moving into that whole space.
Rick: Have you seen any organization or unit that is within the federal range of organizations that are really like ahead of their time or significantly ahead of the rest of the different organizations?
Tom: Well, yeah, I mean, again, Veterans Affairs has come from behind, and they're very big in this off cloud servicing their email. So that's one. I would say that the Defense Information Systems Agency, they have a cloud that's become famous. It's an application development cloud, so that you can quickly develop something as either mostly Federal developers, but contractors too I believe. You have a place to do the development without requisitioning servers and whole physical environments to house that in. So they have their virtual cloud environment that's considered one of the, I guess, poster children for this whole thing.
Rick: Yeah, cool. I mean I think the application development, because I'm not a developer but I know that even if you're interacting with test data or system logging, that type of stuff, the bits of code have access to data or trust zones that you might not want floating around on people's laptops. It might be kind of the same issue. You don't want that trust zone floating in different uncontrolled environments. It's kind of cool to see on a true scale. I mean most private industries don't hit the level scale of some of these organizations. It's kind of cool to watch them develop.
Tom: Yeah. I would say with respect to data center consolidation and the virtualization that will bring, we're still at the very, very beginning stage. It's kind of interesting. There's nothing new under the sun. In 1995, under the Clinton Administration, there was memo from Office of Management and Budget to consolidate data centers. It was about 2,000 back then. They got it down to some smaller number, but it creeps back up again. People always want to build those empires. Every time there's a new project, they build a new data center. They're kind of going at it again. It's one of those things you have to constantly fight like kudzu data centers.
Tom: That 2,000 number, by the way, that's only data centers that are bigger than 500 square feet.
Tom: There are a lot of closets out there that are still going to be operating.
Rick: That's the thing, when I saw that some of those numbers were coming out and then on top of that then the number changed by a matter of one or two thousand. I was telling another guy that I know, Jason Perlow, I said probably the issue is revolving around the definition of a data center, the size that you mentioned, maybe just a single server underneath a closet or in a closet maybe that constitutes a data center.
I think there's a lot of consolidation opportunity. It's got to be an incredible challenge. I'm sure there's a mix of products, vendors, and solutions, OSs. It's a lot like what you might find in a business acquisition situation. You've got a company has acquired a number of smaller companies or something like that. This organization is using this for this function and that organization is using that.
General consolidation, application consolidation, data center consolidation, I think it's really ripe. On top of that virtualization has to be central to that in terms of the data center and some of the application things, like the email and the collaboration tools that you mentioned.
Tom: Yeah. They're looking at emails, the obvious ones, financial is another one, financial systems. Collaboration and citizen involvement tools, they're looking to deploy common apps that everyone can kind of rent instead of everybody growing their own. Right now, the stage is they're putting together their plans for consolidation. By the way, that's also important to note that the single biggest data center owner is the Defense Department. They've got about 700 and something. The rest are divided among everybody else.
Rick: That would probably even include something on a ship, I would think. Right? Well, I don't know 500 square feet . . .
Tom: Well, again, it's 500 square feet. There's a lot of infrastructure right on the ground in the Department of Defense.
Rick: That's true. Right, right. I would also imagine that the technology shipborne or on a mobile data center situation would have to be small by necessity but just as important. I have a friend who works in shipping, like cargo shipping. He has a doozy of a time administrating and supporting that type of situation. There are all kinds of challenges. It's a battlefield of sorts I would say.
Tom: Yeah, and nobody likes to give up real estate. I think the smart managers understand that maybe it's not such a bad idea to get rid of all that infrastructure as long as you get the data for your mission and the applications. Let somebody else worry about keeping everything running and keeping it up to date.
Rick: Yeah. Nobody likes the base supporting functions associated with infrastructure. Keeping the lights on, keeping the lights green, nobody really cares about . . . I shouldn't say they shouldn't care about that but . . .
Tom: Well, they care about it, but it's just a headache they'd rather pay for as a service than have the cost of having it themselves.
Rick: Yeah. What you really want is the application available, the data you need. I mean these are just fundamental cloud drivers. Yeah, and the cloud can be to a corporation one thing, to a personal user like myself can be another, and to a large government organization it can be yet another definition. So I think it's actually kind of interesting, and like you said I think we have a lot of opportunity that will really give us kind of an entertaining or at least – not entertaining – but just a very developing space in the future.
Aside from the government, what other things technology wise or aside from there are consolidation opportunities, what other things technology wise do you see going on with the federal IT space?
Tom: I think one of the biggest happenings is mobility, and it's taking many, many forms. One of them is a mandate now to have federal buildings all equipped with WiFi, both for the use of the people that work in the building and also for visitors.
Tom: You're also seeing the deployment of mobile endpoints to a lot of agencies that may not have had it before. I mean, the Interior Department is looking at iPads. I know that Housing and Urban Development all the managers there have been given iPads. They're still figuring out what is the idea of a fixed governmental building with people streaming to it and then streaming home every day. That model's starting to erode a little bit because of transportation costs and the commuting issues and the idea of green government. Also for continuity of operations, if you have mobile users where the state is in a safe server somewhere, then you have much greater resiliency in case of a disaster.
Also, there's a new bill that was passed late last year, the Telework Enhancement Act, which is really pushing and pressuring agencies to offer greater numbers of their employees teleworking possibilities. For all those reasons, you're seeing a big trend toward mobilizing and use of mobile devices not just for email and phone but for application endpoints.
Tom: Again, that's beginning to take place, but it's also driven by this idea of the consumer electronics moving to the enterprise. That's the trend you're seeing both in private industry and in government.
Rick: Absolutely. First of all, I'm like that's awesome. I think that's a great initiative. I mean I'm sure it's going to be hurdle ridden. There are a lot of requirements that need to be met. iPad, I'm not personally an Apple fan boy myself, but okay, it's a well designed device. I'll give them credit for that. That has to be probably exciting, really for the experience side. If I'm a worker, I don't want to have to drive to work especially when situations come up, weather, traffic, or whatever. As an option, that would be great.
Tom: Also, a lot of agencies are in the business of data gathering. Now, you can do data gathering on a laptop, but when you think about notebooks compared to some of the mobile devices today, they seem really clunky and dated. They have big fat hard drives, which increases security risk.
But if you have, not just iPad, I mean there are some really serious competitors coming out with different platforms, Android platform, BlackBerry platform, and Windows platform, they're getting there. If you could carry something that light with only small storage enough for applications, coupled with 4G that's being deployed more and more throughout the country, then the data is just from that device right to where you actually want it, which is not on the laptop in the field but at a data center where it becomes a product, like the Census.
Rick: Right, right.
Tom: So, the Census is a big one, but many, many agencies do this kind of work. Collection of geo-spatial information, only your imagination limits the ways that can be used. So there are a lot of drivers. So I think mobility is going to really be big.
Rick: Wow, that's great because I wouldn't have seen that coming, but I totally see the use case. That's awesome. Well, Tom I've got a trick. Every podcast has it's gimmick, okay. My gimmick for you is something I call "Three Views from You." I'm going to ask you three separate questions all based on a point of time.
So, Tom, as a technologist, as a guy, as just a person, what's the most interesting role or story or something thus far in your career that you can share with us in the past?
Tom: Oh, golly, I would say the first time one of my publications went online.
Rick: Yeah, that is cool, isn't it? Yeah.
Tom: That was, I guess, around '95 maybe. Just a year after the Netscape Browser, when suddenly those of us in publishing said, "You know what? There's something here."
I barely knew how the whole thing worked. I didn't personally put it online, but I gave the authority to one of my techie editors at that time. In fact, it's Sean McCarthy. He's very well known at IDC now as a federal analyst. But he's the first one to put Government Computer News online. I was the editor of that for 15 years.
So I remember, he said, "Here do this." There it was online. It wasn't nothing like the sophisticated sites of today, but it was there for the world to see. Suddenly, the viewing of our materials was possible beyond the 80,000 people we sent the print magazine to.
Tom: I recall that as quite a moment.
Rick: Yeah, it was totally different than now, because, like in my case, I had to go to the library to go look at something online. Right?
Rick: So, it was, in a way, more of a hassle. Now it's totally reversed. So Tom, currently right now in your work, your technology experience, what's the most interesting thing you have going on currently.
Tom: Well, I'm sort of a middle adopter. I don't rush out and get the latest things. But in my own work I have really adopted cloud to the extent that I can. I've started doing client work and so forth on online documents and trying to get out of that client space myself.
Tom: Why should really anybody at home . . . each computer is like a little utility. I don't operate an electrical plant for the power in my house. I don't operate a water factory, water facility, for the water in my house. Ultimately what I want is water and electricity. I don't really want to own terabytes of hard drives which crash and operating systems which get corrupted and everything else. So I think for the individual that's the greatest promise, and so I'm trying to see how much I can depend on the cloud and less on the infrastructure in my house.
Rick: Cool, cool.
Tom: Which is pretty extensive, by the way.
Rick: Well, yeah, me too, I'm guilty. You said terabytes and I'm, like, uh, I kind of shrugged a little bit.
Tom: We all have four or five computers and lots of monitors.
Tom: Suddenly, you look under the desk, there are a lot of wires under there.
Rick: Absolutely. How about in the future, a couple of years out? What do you see as the most interesting thing coming in the future or down the pike?
Tom: Well, I really think that we are at the beginning of this whole super duper mobile device idea. Each iteration gets us closer there, but it's light and it does everything. But yet it's simple in the sense that it has a solid-state drive or whatever.
I see truly ubiquitous computing. I think the things the pads are bringing us, that ultra light notebooks and netbooks and that thing did not bring us, is no booting. You don't boot your telephone. You don't boot your refrigerator. You don't boot your car but you still boot a computer.
Tom: I think the idea of being able to check what's going on anytime without the overhead that was required with a traditional Mac or PC type of computer, I think that's what these mobile technologies offer. It becomes the dream of the dial tone type of experience I think is really coming with these devices. I think the deployment of 4G, there are two major carriers now that have it, and it's not everywhere. But I think that's going to change a lot.
Rick: Well, heck, you know I'm even a fan boy of 3G. 3G is pretty good, and so 4G would be great.
Tom: Well, if you've ever tried 4G and I have, I tried the Verizon, which is in Washington D.C. It's wire speed on your network, on your USB dangle.
Rick: That's awesome.
Tom: They just have a little USB device and you look at it, how fast things look. So what that causes is a lot of pressure on the big sites, because the funny thing is you can tell how fast 4G is when you download a file, say an update or a movie or something. A song comes across in a split second instead of a minute or so.
The problem is some of the big websites, The Washington Post or something like that, they still take a long time to load even with the 4G. The reason is you're getting a couple of hundred different image files from maybe 50 or 60 different servers from all over the place that aren't very well coordinated. What this is going to do, when we all have high-speed wireless access, is show up the need to re-architect the sites being served up. Once the pipe is no longer the limiting factor but the crappy design of the web servers, then there's going to be pressure on people who operate those sites.
Rick: I saw a tweet this week that's right up that alley. It said, or maybe it was last week, it said, "You can't hardware yourself out of a problem that you softwared yourself into." Right?
Tom: That's a good way of putting it.
Rick: Well, hey, Tom, I really appreciate your time on the podcast today. This has been a really good discussion. Everybody, again, if you want to follow Tom on Twitter, it's ttemin, and I'll have links to all his stuff in the podcast notes. If you have any feedback on the podcast, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom, thanks for being on the show.
Tom: It's my pleasure. Good talking with you.
Podcast transcription by SpeechPad.com