When COVID-19 reached American shores, federal government agencies were forced to quickly redefine their operating environments by adopting new, modernized processes and applications that would enable them to adjust to the new normal spurred by the pandemic.
As the dust from COVID-19 begins to settle, agencies are finally getting accustomed and comfortable with their digitally transformed environments and are now turning their focus to exploring the full, beneficial extent that modernization can deliver to their overall mission goals and priorities.
As a result, government agencies are beginning to integrate and align their mission goals with the deployment and implementation of new applications and solutions, for both internal agency processes and external constituent-facing services. But depending on an agency’s size and mission, solutions may not be one-size-fits-all.
Companies like Cisco AppDynamics have developed solutions that are specifically designed to support federal agencies’ efforts in optimizing and aligning their applications’ performance to meet their specific goals and priorities.
To learn more about the growing need of application performance and optimization within federal agencies, and how well-observed and optimized applications can benefit and advance an agency’s mission, the GovCyberHub sat down with Gregg Ostrowski, Executive CTO at Cisco AppDynamics.
Here is what he had to say:
GovCyberHub (GCH): What is the relationship between a government agency’s mission and its applications’ performance? How do the two impact each other?
Gregg Ostrowski: A government agency’s mission and its application performance are directly related to each other. As we know, we’re in a world now where applications have become the forefront of many different agencies’ missions. How well that application performs is a direct correlation to how you start to visualize and understand the overarching impact.
With AppDynamics, we have the ability of not just monitoring application performance, but we are also able to correlate and understand the agency mission’s KPIs. That could include looking at the number of IDs processed or the number of grants processed for an organization, for example.
“When you look at the overarching point of view, you have a sprawling architecture, and you have different teams that are depending on different SaaS or cloud. That creates a few challenges.” – Gregg Ostrowski
When you’re able to start extrapolating how well that application is performing, that’s directly integrated or tied to the mission. You now have a way of validating that your spend or investment towards the technology is impacting the mission in the proper direction where you want to see the most positive outcome. So, they’re very, very closely aligned, as more agencies are dependent on applications to drive their mission success.
GCH: What trends is Cisco AppDynamics observing when it comes to the current direction of federal agencies’ application performance and management priorities? What challenges are they coming up against that application performance optimization can remedy?
Gregg Ostrowski: The current trend is that a lot of folks are starting to look at adopting cloud services into their applications. One of the challenges that brings on is a larger level of complexity within the application. What happens now is that when teams are starting to adopt cloud services, they create another layer into the mix where they need to observe.
When you look at the overarching point of view, you have a sprawling architecture, and you have different teams that are depending on different SaaS or cloud. That creates a few challenges.
First, you have a skills challenge. You have folks that are now looking at newer, nascent technologies that they need to be able to upskill themselves for. Second, you need to be able to look at where you’re investing. When you look at the investments coming through, you must ensure that the investments are delivering the best performance outcome, that overarching management of the mission. This puts you in a position where you must have a means of not just observability, but you also have to build in optimization.
Optimization really comes into play when you have challenges around scale. Being a part of a federal agency, an example of something that could affect scale could be the aftermath of a natural disaster where a lot of folks need access to services. Application performance optimization, which is a full stack observability opportunity that Cisco employs, enables us to use multiple products. I already mentioned AppDynamics, which is for managing the performance of the application. Another tool that can also be leveraged is Cisco Intersight Workload Optimizer, which can be integrated with AppDynamics.
“Because we have the ability of correlating how the mission is performing compared to the application, we can also ensure that when that scaling element slows back down and goes back to a normal state, we can bring down the infrastructure to run at the most efficient level.” – Gregg Ostrowski
Also with the growing dependency on the public internet, finding out where an ISP might be failing or knowing where your users are impacted becomes much more difficult. Cisco’s Thousand Eyes enables agencies to have network visibility from the enterprise through the internet. Being able to gain a granular view of every hop the application takes to traverse all the network hops quickly helps identify if the issue is within the enterprise or within the many ISPs of the internet.
By using the tools together, federal agencies have the ability to understand the performance of an application, and then feed that data to Intersight. Intersight can then automatically make adjustments on the infrastructure to increase capacity, to increase scale, optimize costs and to be able to ensure that the applications that are needed at the most critical times are available.
GCH: What benefits are agencies seeing after they optimize their applications to meet their mission goals?
Gregg Ostrowski: One great benefit is cost optimization. As you start to increase capacity, you need that capacity to be in alignment with the outcomes you’re seeing in the mission. Because we have the ability of correlating how the mission is performing compared to the application, we can also ensure that when that scaling element slows back down and goes back to a normal state, we can bring down the infrastructure to run at the most efficient level. That not only reduces the amount of cost that you have, whether it be on-prem or running in the cloud, but it also ensures that the mission goals are being met in the most cost-optimized way.
GCH: What factors should agencies take into consideration when looking to optimize their applications to better serve their missions? Where is a good starting point?
Gregg Ostrowski: A good starting point is to take a look at the most mission critical applications. Build out a proof of value with a showcase application and develop an understanding of how you can start to integrate performance monitoring as well as infrastructure optimization. That will give you a starting point of what can be referenceable, and then spread out amongst the rest of the applications that are in that mission critical state. That is probably the number one factor.
“…You cannot start a plan of aligning to the mission in a silo. It needs to be a broader, multi domain effort.” – Gregg Ostrowski
The second factor would be that you have to look at your longer term strategies and the vision you have going forward, to ensure that you have observability into the application CI/CD pipeline from the get go. It’s not something that you want to revisit and put it in later. You want to make sure that you have a strategy of an observability plan as you’re building and going forward.
GCH: What are some of the common missteps government agencies should know to avoid when developing an application-mission alignment strategy?
Gregg Ostrowski: There are several missteps that I hear about. First, you cannot start a plan of aligning to the mission in a silo. It needs to be a broader, multi domain effort. And what I mean by that is you need to have the networking teams, the infrastructure teams, the DevOps teams, as well as the mission leaders involved. You need to have full team alignment on it.
The second point is you need to start baselining what your current environment looks like today. When you do not have a metric, or an idea of understanding what you’re improving, and what your goals are, you need to set up those KPIs. You need to be able to understand what the current environment looks like. Because when an investment comes in from the leaders in the mission and you implement those changes or technology advancements, you need to validate that it’s actually putting the agency in a better position than it was in the past.
“Integrating AppDynamics and Intersight enables agencies to tie together the mission context, the application performance, as well as the infrastructure.” – Gregg Ostrowski
Lastly, not including observability in your strategy longer term is a common misstep, because it will eventually just become an afterthought. Ensuring that in the beginning of the process will make your life much easier.
GCH: What solutions are currently out there that can maximize and optimize government agency application performance?
Gregg Ostrowski: The Cisco Full-Stack Observabilty solution enables integrations with Thousand Eyes and Cisco Intersight. Thousand Eyes provides network visibility, and includes internet connectivity monitoring, and integrates with AppDynamics, allowing the ability to pinpoint where in the network an issue occurs, and whether it is on part of the enterprise network or an ISP in the flow of the application. That can save valuable time to determine root cause.
Also, integrating AppDynamics and Intersight enables agencies to tie together the mission context, the application performance, as well as the infrastructure. That allows agencies to build an effective strategy, which will allow you to gather that data around application performance, but also allow you to build in a plan for automation.
One of the bigger challenges that we see industry-wide is that complexity is going up. Headcounts are not going up along with that, so employees are needing to do more with less. With the integration between AppDynamics and Intersight, we enable our customers to automate the infrastructure optimization as well as cost optimization with the infrastructure that the applications are dependent on.