Forman touts IT as commodity

'You've got to pick your benchmarks wisely.'

'Census Bureau's Richard W. Swartz

Agencies need to start looking at computing capacity as a commodity adaptable to changing needs, according to former e-government chief Mark Forman.

Forman, now executive vice president for consultant Cassatt Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., talked about the commoditization of servers and bandwidth at a recent Washington conference on adaptive computing. Current feds who also spoke at the conference backed up Forman's contention but with a few caveats.

Low-cost Intel servers running Linux are fast replacing proprietary technology, Forman said, and soon agencies will be able to link server capacity and Web services to business processes as needed.

Federal acquisition officials should stop buying systems for unique needs, Forman said. Also, congressional appropriators should embrace funding decisions that favor enterprisewide buys. Along with new buying approaches, IT officials will need new skills in Linux, grid computing, service-oriented architecture and management tools, he said.

During a panel discussion at the conference, Dawn Meyerriecks, chief technology officer of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said military IT has done a 'pretty good job of standardization' but needs to improve its agility.

Cost savings will be the government's biggest driver of IT change, Census Bureau CIO Richard W. Swartz predicted.

Forman asked the panelists why agencies are slow to switch from reduced-instruction-set-computing platforms to commodity servers. Swartz attributed the delay to cost and inertia.

Agencies could learn some strategies from the 2002 merger of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp., said Nora M. Denzel, HP's senior vice president for adaptive enterprise and software. HP sponsored the conference.

While working out the merger, HP officials devised an adopt-and-go strategy to start working at the business-process level instead of with infrastructure details, Denzel said.

Swartz said he believes Commerce Department agencies in theory could share commodity servers. But without a profit motive, IT budget battles get 'very religious and political,' he said.

CIOs are finding that the amount of metawork, or 'work about the work,' is increasing all the time, Swartz said, so 'you've got to pick your benchmarks wisely.' Business and political skills are both necessary, he said.

Meyerriecks added that agencies also need to 'articulate cases for where to make your investments.'

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