Jan 28 2020

How the USDA Relies on Containers to Build Apps

Container technology helps the Agriculture Department simplify software development.

Federal agencies are increasingly turning to container technology to ease the transition to cloud platforms, boost cybersecurity for their applications and work more efficiently. 

Docker, a leading container player, defines a container as “a standard unit of software that packages up code and all its dependencies so the application runs quickly and reliably from one computing environment to another.”

IT administrators and regular users alike can use containers to create new applications, conduct research and more effectively use legacy technology platforms

Containers are becoming key to both modern app development and as a way to migrate applications to more modern platforms. Containerization also helps IT leaders separate the roles of developers, security and operations team members. Containers enable users to create apps more quickly and on more stable infrastructure. 

At the Agriculture Department, developers can build applications using RedHat’s OpenShift Container Platform in support of Docker-based container hosting.

“They can use it to move workloads — to manage workloads back and forth,” says Edward Reyelts, associate CIO in the USDA’s Digital Infrastructure Services Center. “Without a container, they would have to stand up their own VMware cluster to run these workloads, which adds a lot of complexity.”

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has been an early adopter of the platform. “They are able to take advantage of this shared environment where we provide the security accreditation, so they have the assurances that all the security controls that are required by FISMA and FedRAMP are already in place,” Reyelts says, referring to the Federal Information Security Modernization Act and Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. “They don’t have to buy infrastructure; they don’t have to do the authority to operate.” 

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how to successfully incorporate DevOps into your agency’s practices. 

How the USDA Benefits from Containerization

The move to containers has simplified the software development process for FSIS. Prior to this, “they had to have all the network infrastructure — they had to buy the hardware and maintain the hardware, they had to do lifecycle management and put in all the documentation to support all that, including network and servers and storage devices,” Reyelts says. “Now, all of that is eliminated for them.”

Containers have allowed FSIS to shift from capital expenditures to operational dollars in support of new applications

“And they don’t have to do the lifecycle management anymore, they don’t have to do the security controls except those that are tied to the application layer,” Reyelts says. “All of that is taken care of for them behind the scenes in a shared environment.”

Those same benefits can be leveraged out to other USDA users. “We can do it once and share it many times across all of our different agencies and mission areas. The more we can share those costs across multiple customers, the better off each individual customer is going to be,” Reyelts says.

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