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Biden’s big federal IT reboot

Biden’s big federal IT reboot

Welcome to Protocol | Enterprise, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This Thursday: tech's big opportunity amid President Biden's plans for federal IT modernization, the networking issue that helped Slack crater earlier this month and Microsoft's big plans for rural Virginia.

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The Big Story

Better late than never?

Amid all that's been dumped on President Biden's plate for his first week in office — a budding insurrection, an out-of-control pandemic and a shaky economy — modernizing the federal bureaucracy's computer systems and cleaning up the effects of the SolarWinds security breach still rank as major priorities.

During 2020, companies invested billions of dollars in new tech initiatives as they were forced to make wholesale changes to their business models to accommodate a new world changed by the pandemic. Now, as part of the proposed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Biden wants to join them by immediately investing more than $10 billion in new IT projects across the government.

Here's how that proposed investment breaks down, why it's important, and what it means for America's tech companies.

First and foremost, this is mainly about security. A look at the $9 billion proposed for the Technology Modernization Fund shows that nicely:

  • Key to that new investment will be the addition of the Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency to the fund, an agency that was only introduced in 2018.
  • Simply understanding the depth of the Russian hack — which hit up to 10 federal government agencies, leaving emails, documents and other files on the network open to prying eyes undetected for months — will be an expensive undertaking.
  • And realistically, many federal IT systems will need to be rebuilt in order to have peace of mind that any lingering backdoors installed during the hack are now closed.
  • That will require a massive investment in people, equipment and services needed to do the proper forensic analysis and subsequent renovation of systems inside Justice, Defense, Energy and several other agencies.

And the security push doesn't end there: it's also a priority for new spending at the Information Technology Oversight and Reform fund and a separate chunk of spending for CISA.

  • Biden wants to award ITOR $200 million "for the rapid hiring of hundreds of experts to support the federal Chief Information Security Officer and U.S. Digital Service," according to his proposal.
  • Trump's Office of Management and Budget proposed a cut in spending to this fund for the 2020 fiscal year, from $28.5 million the previous year to $15 million, a level that paid for 69 full-time employees.
  • Biden's plan would also call for an additional $690 million dedicated to CISA, which is going to have to do the bulk of the work digging the federal government out of the SolarWinds hole.

Elsewhere, investment will go into services, with Biden's proposal also calling for changes to the General Services Administration's Technology Transformation Services group.

  • This group includes 18F, the Obama-era program that attempted to speed along the process of adopting modern technology products and services, with ... mixed results.
  • The proposal includes $300 million in "no-year funding," which means it can be used over an indefinite period of time on new services.
  • Unlike the spending allocated for the Technology Modernization Fund, this money does not have to be reimbursed by individual agencies out of their own budgets, which (theoretically) should help the spending process move more quickly.

All this spending is a big opportunity for tech companies and career technologists to plunge into government service again, after four years of uneasy collaboration with the Trump administration. It won't be easy, but there is a lot of work to be done, with many contracts to be won and roles to be filled.

  • "We do have a very significant deficit both on the defense side and the civilian side in our ability to do software well, and I do think we need to work on that," said Jen Pahlka, former U.S. Deputy CTO under the Obama administration, during a virtual event with Protocol's Emily Birnbaum and Issie Lapowsky on Tuesday.
  • While the money is certainly welcome, Biden could make modernization even easier by setting up a National Technology Council to centralize decision making, much like the National Security Council does with defense strategy, according to Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom.

Who knows, maybe AWS might get a crack at the JEDI contract after all?

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron

For Raj Hazra, who is senior vice president of corporate strategy and communications at Micron, there has never been a more thrilling time than this golden age of data. In this interview, Hazra describes how "we are now at the doorstep of taking things that we thought were science fiction and making them real, and it's only going to be exponentially faster going forward". Read more from Micron's Raj Hazra.

This Week On Protocol

More like not-work: Slack's big outage on Jan. 4 gave everybody a little more time to settle into their coffee on the first day back from work after the holiday break — unless you worked for Slack or AWS. A previously undisclosed networking issue in the AWS Transit Gateway service led to a series of errors inside Slack's infrastructure as it tried to recover, according to a copy of the root-cause analysis obtained by Protocol.

Starting fresh: Oracle and SAP are database and enterprise-planning software giants of another era, now trying to reinvent themselves among a new generation of startup founders who were kids when the companies ruled enterprise tech. Protocol's Joe Williams takes a look at how the two companies are courting startups and having more success than you might think.

Expense this: If you ever get a chance to chat with Expensify CEO David Barrett, jump on it: it will not be boring. This interview with the outspoken CEO, by Protocol's Ben Pimentel, is full of gems. My favorite: "In this Twitter news cycle, sustaining anger for more than like 10 seconds is hard. It's like, 'Fuck Trump! Oh, such a cute puppy!' It's so hard to do anything."

Five Questions for...

Ravi Kumar, president, Infosys

What was your first tech job?

My first job was as a nuclear scientist, but I suppose my first job in tech was when I was working for PwC on technology transformation and an ERP system for a utility company in rural India.

What's the best piece of advice you could give to someone starting their first tech job?

I would say, go from being a know-it-all to becoming a learn-it-all. The half-life of skills we learn is so short that the only way to be relevant is to learn, unlearn and relearn lifelong.

What has changed the most at your company in 2020?

I think it's the clock speed of our organization. Things that took months or weeks to execute now take just days, and decisions that took weeks of debate now are taken in hours. The pace of change, and the dynamism of the situations around us, is so dizzying that the only way to keep up is to be faster. I think this will be the next normal, there's no going back.

What was the biggest reason for the success of cloud computing over the past decade?

Some businesses figured out that the true value of cloud is not just in leveraging its compute or data prowess for one's own innovation, insights, resilience and efficiency but in also sharing that same infrastructure with appropriate enrichments with others so they can in turn monetize it. Every business that runs successfully on this shared infrastructure makes the infrastructure itself so much more valuable and eventually indispensable. In some sense, the cloud has emerged as the "business of businesses."

Will the pandemic usher in a new era of remote working, or will we all come back together when it is safe to do so?

What will emerge is most certainly a hybrid way of working marked by acceptance for the "work from anywhere" model, which will likely bring more gig workers into the mainstream workforce. At the same time, we will also value the time we spend with our co-workers, partners and clients in the traditional office workplace and use it to recharge social capital and creative collaboration.

Around the Cloud

  • One of the last things President Trump did on his way out the door was issue an executive order requiring cloud companies to follow "know your customer" policies similar to financial regulations. It's not clear that order will survive the first 100 days of the Biden administration.
  • Oracle reorganized its cloud division under a new moniker, Oracle Cloud Platform & AI Services, tapping Don Johnson to run the group.
  • Enterprise infrastructure veterans had a good laugh after Parler promised it could be up and running quickly after the AWS ban, and The New Stack explained why so many thought those claims were hilarious.
  • GitHub reversed course after firing an employee for calling the mob that stormed the Capitol "Nazis." It offered that employee their job back after the head of HR resigned.
  • Private equity continues to look closely at enterprise software, and TPG plunged $500 million into Greenhouse for a majority stake as the HR software company sees a rebound from a tough stretch in 2020.
  • Julia White joined SAP. Previously a familiar face at Microsoft Azure events as head of its enterprise cloud marketing team, she took a similar role with the German database company as it continues a major hiring spree.
  • Vice found location data collected by X-Mode, a shady data broker known for capturing data without consent, on the AWS Marketplace before it was removed by either AWS or X-Mode.
  • Citrix has been a little overlooked as a company primed for the global work-from-home movement. But it just acquired Wrike, a project-management startup, for $2.25 billion.
  • The ripple effects of the SolarWinds attack continue to filter through enterprise tech, and the new worry is that copycat hackers just learned a lot about how to exploit vulnerable tech vendors.
  • As the cloud gets bigger, data centers get bigger. Microsoft just purchased 900 acres of land — roughly the size of Central Park — to add to what is already its biggest Azure data center installation on the East Coast.

A MESSAGE FROM MICRON

Micron

For Raj Hazra, who is senior vice president of corporate strategy and communications at Micron, there has never been a more thrilling time than this golden age of data. In this interview, Hazra describes how "we are now at the doorstep of taking things that we thought were science fiction and making them real, and it's only going to be exponentially faster going forward". Read more from Micron's Raj Hazra.

Thanks for reading. We'll be back with Protocol | Enterprise next Monday.

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