Open Source Solutions Can Help Boost FITARA Scorecards

Hortonworks recommends agencies adopt open source for data center consolidation

The most recent Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act scorecard came in June 13. Agencies are graded across a broad range of technology categories. However, the scores issued on this most recent grading period indicated low grades in the category of data center consolidation.

Hortonworks—an open source data management solutions provider—is advocating agencies turn to open source solutions.

FITARA was implemented in 2015 to save money by changing the way federal government buys and manages technology. It also requires agencies to close certain data centers by 2018. However, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee gave 10 of the 24 agencies an F in the data center optimization initiative category. 

sowellAccording to Hortonworks, data centers in the commercial sector are using open source software platforms (like its product Hadoop) for data integration and analytics. Henry Sowell, the company’s technical director of U.S. public sector, said government should follow suit.

“What we’re seeing in the commercial space and industry at large is that this movement towards the open source community has greatly accelerated capabilities,” Sowell told GovernmentCIO Magazine. This allows IT departments to rely on different companies and developers from around the world rather than relying on a single organization for any point of innovation. With a variety sources continually participating in the activity, “the innovation never stops.”

“[Data] is coming in at such an extensive and fast rate that it’s very hard to adapt with traditional technologies that you see in data centers throughout the government,” Sowell said. Data is no longer just transactional, but unstructured and in various formats, especially with the evolution of the internet of things. Open source solutions have the potential to help agencies optimize their datacenters before the next biannual FITARA scorecard by managing large, complex data.

According to Sowell, agencies are struggling to manage this data in traditional data centers. Platforms have to be flexible enough to handle the wide variety of data, and agencies have to be able to scale cost effectively.

“We look for scalable technologies that operate on commodity hardware,” Sowell said, allowing departments to do things in a much more cost-effective and risk-averse manner.

For example, if a single piece of hardware costs $ 1 million and one part of it breaks, replacing it becomes very expensive. If an IT architecture is made up of 50 small servers each $10,000 and something happens to one of them, replacing that one part is far less expensive. Open source solutions provide this ability to scale, buy smaller and eliminate risk. In fact, purchasing and risk reduction are among chief information officers’ responsibilities on the FITARA scorecard.

“Some of these solutions would be great help with that,” Sowell said.

Yet, some agencies are challenged with a hefty desire to approach the software space without having an actual path forward to accomplish the mission. Transitioning to open source solutions requires agencies to focus on a purpose and partner with experts in the particular field they want to invest in. Sowell recommends agencies develop an effective plan, prioritize and establish primary goals, explore industry best practices for software development and partner appropriately to better match the mission with the technology.

It’s also important to make sure the company gives agencies access to databases in the open source community while meeting government standards for security and enterprise readiness. The top benefits of open source include the flexibility of all the vendors and solutions in the open source community, and being able to integrate within the community and move away from software license models and vendor lock-in.

“[Agencies] can actually be a part of that community that helps to drive their needs,” he said. “It’s really about eliminating risk, increasing modernization effectiveness, while meeting the standards of government.”

Sowell also recommends governmentwide sharing. For example, his company is working with a Defense Department organization to develop big data solutions, and to share the lessons learned and best practices from the process with other DOD organizations and throughout the federal government.

“That’s one thing we found to be really effective,” Sowell said. “It’s really creating a government open source community, essentially, that is starting to pay dividends.”

Open source solutions can also help reduce the cost of storing big data. Large data centers take up space, power, energy, and don’t allow for ease of accessing that data in a way that lets an agency retrieve valuable information. Consolidating that storage makes it accessible while reducing an agency’s footprint and overall spending.

And that’s something Sowell said agencies are moving toward.

“[Government is] looking at how to move into that changed space, how to take those lessons learned and how to invest into the enterprise open source community to start getting those same benefits,” he said. Ultimately, the hope is these benefits are represented on the next FITARA scorecard.