Although microservices represent a significant shift for IT departments, the results are worth it, Arrieta argues.
“It’s a new way of doing business,” he says. “The massive challenge you have is the education and cultural change piece of it. There are a lot of folks who have been around for a long time who are really comfortable doing things a certain way.”
Arrieta adds: “In terms of the problems that a microservices architecture solves — once you can view all your data from disparate systems, you need to analyze it. If everything goes into a cloud platform, your licensing costs would go up. That’s the problem it solves.
“Whenever people talk about zero-trust environments and about moving to the cloud, they start to realize they need a microservices architecture,” he says. “It’s absolutely the future of federal modernization — no doubt, 100 percent.”
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Feds Modernize Apps via Containers
The move toward microservices requires investments in both people and technology, Chaudhry says.
“We had to get the right team in place — a set of mission-driven men and women who are very talented and continuously thinking outside the box,” he says. “We needed to ensure we had the right skill sets, adequate tools and appropriate training.”
The FDA is moving to software-defined networking to help pave the path for microservices. “When it came to the network, it was important for us to remove as many manual processes as possible,” Chaudhry says.
The Department of Veterans Affairs developed VA Platform One, or VAPO, a new service designed to standardize the use of containers and eventually microservices as well as help the department optimize for the cloud.
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“It’s an enterprise-ready container platform,” explains Todd Simpson, deputy assistant secretary at the VA. “Think of them like shipping containers on a boat. Each of these containers contains an application, and VAPO is the platform we use to access the dependencies these applications have.
“Essentially, the containers abstract the underlying infrastructure, which helps us gain efficiencies compared with traditional approaches to virtualization,” he says.
The VA has used a range of tech tools to build, operate and maintain its VAPO service. The agency launched VAPO with RedHat OpenShift but plans to leverage additional tools in the future based on customer needs.
“One of the end goals is to make this VAPO platform a model for the future,” Simpson says. “We have 400 legacy applications that we’re tracking, and we plan to modernize about 50 of those by the end of the year.”
DIVE DEEPER: Find out how containers help agencies develop modern applications.
Microservices Yield Tangible Benefits for the Federal Government
Even for agencies that are leading the way on implementing microservices, the space is still relatively uncharted.
“VAPO is very young right now, and we don’t have depth yet,” Simpson says. “We really just got the wheels on the bus, and it’s probably going to start moving around on its own.”
Still, the early results have been encouraging. Like HHS, the VA has seen dramatic improvements in its time to delivery in teams that have containerized their applications.
“We were able to do in less than 100 days what previously took six months to do in terms of development,” Simpson says. “That is one of the biggest benefits that I’ve seen.
“We have dozens of COVID-related applications — how patients check in at VA hospitals, for example — things we never dreamed we would have to develop but were forced to by the new telework world and addressing waiting rooms at healthcare facilities.
“All of that was done leveraging microservices,” he says. “I don’t think we would have been able to respond to the challenges of the pandemic if we didn’t have this architecture in place beforehand.”