Oct 10 2017

SBA Tackles Tech Upgrades with Multi-Pronged Approach

Under Maria Roat, the Small Business Administration has pushed ahead with cloud migrations as well as software and network upgrades.

Maria Roat, the CIO of the Small Business Administration, said last week on the program “Government Matters” that her first year as the agency’s IT chief has been focused on stabilization and modernization. Yet that undersells the progress Roat and her staff have made.

The SBA has shut down about 200 servers, moved applications to the cloud (including its Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program), upgraded its network and refreshed its computer software.

Roat’s fast-moving and no-nonsense approach — she spent 26 years in the Navy and served as CTO at the Transportation Department — underscores that there are multiple paths agencies can take to modernize their IT infrastructure. Moreover, agencies can take different technology upgrade paths concurrently to make more progress.

“We’ve done a ton of work on stabilizing SBA,” Roat said last month at the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s Small Business Alliance event, as FedScoop reports. At the event, Roat outlined the ways in which her office has moved to quickly update the agency’s IT.

Shuttering Data Centers Is a Key Priority

Roat’s desire to shut down data centers and migrate apps and data to the cloud is no secret. As she explained at an August industry event, Roat drew a line in the sand last fall and decreed that the agency would not buy any new data center hardware. As FedScoop notes, the SBA must, by law, reward the bulk of its contracts to small businesses. They are helping the agency move to the cloud.

“All of the work we are doing, with the [exception] of bringing in Microsoft and some others, has all been small business,” she said, according to FedScoop.

The server shutdowns will continue into next year. SBA is also using tiger teams to speed up the agency’s cloud migration. “We’ve got 70 systems that have been backed-up already and the migration is continuing as we speak,” Roat said.

Roat’s goal, as she noted in August, is to get SBA out of its primary data center completely.

Moving CDM to the Cloud

The CDM program allows agencies to identify cybersecurity risks on an ongoing basis, then prioritize the risks based on how severe they might be in an effort to let cybersecurity personnel mitigate the most significant problems first. CDM offers commercial off-the-shelf tools — hardware, software and services — that agencies can access via a central fund. DHS runs the CDM program in partnership with the General Services Administration.

Roat said SBA is the first agency to move its CDM program to the cloud. “We’re the first ones to do it because I refuse to buy the hardware licenses for it,” she said, according to FedScoop. “We did not spin up 96 cores for CDM. We started out with 16 to begin with.”

The Commerce Department wants to eventually follow suit.

After it worked with small businesses to design an agile infrastructure for the CDM migration, SBA is moving full steam ahead, Roat said.

“Frankly, we’re burning bridges behind us so my folks cannot go back and do the same old, same old anymore,” she said.

SBA Adds New Software and Network Technology

While SBA is not adding any new hardware to its data centers, Roat is investing in new laptops running Microsoft’s Windows 10 and Office 365 for cloud-based office productivity.

“I’m making my office, the OCIO, eat their own dog food,” Roat said. “That’s the feds and the contractors, we are deploying internally in my office first. I was one of the first 10 pilot users they rolled out.” 

Additionally, as Roat noted last week during her “Government Matters” appearance, SBA has shifted away from multiprotocol label switching technology to a pure Ethernet backbone for its network.

As FedScoop reports, SBA has focused on upgrading the network at its 30 largest sites and will move the remaining 70 to 80 sites through early 2018.

SBA’s IT staff — which includes 70 employees in Roat’s office, 150 contractors and another 100 or so IT staff members — is agile enough to handle multiple IT upgrade projects at once, Roat said.

“SBA is not that big, and I think that is helping us drive and move very fast,” she said. “Whether it’s on the desktop moving to Windows 10 and Office 2016, turning things on and trying them out. By virtue of being small, it has its challenges and it has its benefits, as long as you kick the tires on a lot of things.”

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