Fear the slasher: Surviving the IT budget horror show
- By Josh Stephens
- Oct 27, 2011
Forget Freddy, Jason and the rest of the costumed creatures — there’s
a new king of the hill when it comes to fright, and it resides in the
confines of Washington, D.C. Fueled by a shrinking economy and vicious
bipartisan bickering, the agency budget, or lack thereof, has become the
most terrifying thing in the federal world, especially when it comes to
But this general lack of funds has spawned a host of other nightmares
to keep agency CIOs awake at night. Beyond tightened budgets, federal
IT shops are also faced with a slew of mandates requiring them to
streamline operations while investing in new technologies, ranging from
the Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Data Center Consolidation
Initiative to the Cloud First strategy and the new CyberScope component
of the Federal Information Security Management Act.
Although all of these edicts will save money in the long run, they
are forcing new and, to a certain extent, untried technologies into
Systemic tensions: 3 IT project zombies that just won't die
Also rearing its head during the budget maelstrom is IT’s constant
demon: complexity. Not only are federal applications and systems growing
increasingly complex organically, agency IT teams are also dealing with
the rise of mobile devices and an increased demand for integrating
heterogeneous smart phones into the fabric of federal networks.
Compounded with ever-evolving malware threats, agency IT pros must be
starting to feel like they’re trapped in the technology equivalent of
Strained budgets also mean that agency decision-makers will face a
house of horrors when it comes to training, which tends to take the
biggest hit during budget freak-outs. Training current staff on new
technologies and bringing new hires up to speed will become exceedingly
difficult, if not outright impossible, in turn leading to lapsed IT
certifications, which can put key agency projects and critical networks
Just as in any slasher film, agency IT can survive federal budget
cuts. But there will be victims, so CIOs need to know not only what to
cut — identifying their expendable characters — but also where to spend
Take legacy off life support
Every agency has a legacy system that has more in common with an
extra from the “The Walking Dead” than it does with the modern federal
network — it’s essentially a zombie. Typically, these legacy systems are
extremely expensive to maintain, particularly from a consultant and
licensing perspective, but they are kept alive because it’s easier to
pay for them than it is to tear them out.
That’s not the case anymore, especially with budget masters willing
to bring the ax down on anything and everything. So why not pull the
legacy systems out now?
The budget crisis provides essentially a clean slate when it comes to
IT projects. Everything is fair game for end-of-life — from legacy to
expensive and ill-conceived projects — so CIOs should take advantage and
cut these cancers out before they dig any deeper into the network, and
The (complex) serial killer
Complexity has always been an ax man for agency networks, but with
slashed budgets draining available funds for training, it’s even more of
Consider, for example, network management — typical agency networks
comprise hundreds of applications and supporting systems, both physical
and virtual, making managing such an environment no laughing matter.
Most IT teams tend to implement even more overly complex solutions to
manage these networks, which require a great degree of specialization to
And now the dead training budget comes into play — any new hires or
existing staff members making lateral moves into IT management need
training on that monstrosity of a network management solution, but
there’s no money to bring in a consultant or refresh training materials.
Complexity has killed again.
The network management paradigm is just one example in a typical
agency IT shop. The fact is that in the modern enterprise marketplace,
there are hundreds, if not thousands, of streamlined, low-cost solutions
that fit the needs of federal IT teams. These products take complexity
out of the equation altogether, ensuring that training new staff on a
given technology is a matter of hours/days rather than weeks/months (or,
God forbid, years).
It’s not 2001: Topple the monolith
There seems to be a tendency for agency networks to gravitate toward
monolithic IT solutions, whether it’s for IT management, e-mail or
application monitoring. While these huge systems sound great during the
sales cycle, the implementation and upkeep are terrors — many a federal
IT professional has been driven nearly mad trying to apply firmware
updates to these cyclopean structures.
The truth is that bigger isn’t better and, just as with legacy
systems, there’s no better time than a budget crunch to drag the
monolith out the door.
Modularity is the new trend in IT for both the public and private
sectors, and it’s likely to stick around. Not only does it ensure that
agency IT shops are paying for only the features that they need, but it
allows them to add and drop capabilities as the needs of their networks
change, usually for a reasonable price.
Trying to add or remove functionality from a monolith is like trying
to plead for your life in front of a movie monster — it’s futile.
Keep the monsters at bay
The budget horror show doesn’t appear to be coming to an end anytime
soon, especially with economic numbers remaining tepid at best. But with
the right technology strategy, agency CIOs can not only meet their own
IT goals but also fuel a resurgence of the efficient, effective agency,
buoyed by modular technologies, streamlined solutions and
The above strategies represent a whole new way of thinking when it
comes to agency IT, but by implementing these approaches, federal CIOs
and IT leads can ensure that the budget slasher movie at least has a
Josh Stephens is vice president of technology for IT management software company SolarWinds.