An organization can only function as well as its infrastructure will allow it. When organizations in both the public and private sector use out-of-date technology or weak means of cyber defense, they are opening themselves up to preventable vulnerabilities. A recent Dell Federal survey revealed a shocking dependence by the federal government on legacy IT systems.
The State of IT Trends 2016 study was initially conducted between April 15 and May 4, 2016, and included 1,200 interviews in the United States, Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Japan. In addition to these original research findings, an additional survey was done in May 2016 to include the opinions of 100 IT and business decision makers in the US government.
Out-of-date technology is a recognized concern within the federal government; yet, over 70 percent of IT decision makers admit that legacy IT systems are used for important government work.
Additionally, 53 percent of those who completed the survey noted that the systems they are currently using within their agencies are no longer being provided with vendor support. These systems include Windows 7 and 8, and the Windows Server 2008.
In an exclusive interview with Homeland Security Today, Cameron Chehreh, Chief Technology Officer with Dell Federal said, “Agencies acknowledge the risk that comes with legacy IT systems. Cybersecurity is likely the greatest risk factor. Forty-two percent of the study’s federal respondents said cybersecurity risks were their top concern, followed by the major cost of maintenance.”
In an increasing dangerous and complex cyber threat environment, the vulnerabilities stemming from the use of legacy IT can make it easier for criminals to intrude on government network systems.
“Cybersecurity incidents are continuing to increase in government, but reliance on aging systems means agencies are forced to take a massive gamble on systems that may not be secure. Meanwhile, the costs that are associated with keeping these outdated systems running leave very little in the budget for innovation, creating a difficult-to-break cycle,” said Chehreh.
In addition to the cybersecurity risk, utilizing legacy IT tools is costly. Supporting outdated IT with budget dollars often means that the necessary advancements and updates critical to the proper functioning of these systems are outside of budget range. Advancements can include hardware or software updates, or something more large scale, such as server or network overhauls.
In considering these challenges, 46 percent of survey respondents identified IT infrastructure systems and 39 percent identified file storage and sharing systems as areas which could benefit the most from modernization efforts. Technology updates could especially help when applied to agency desktop computers, laptop computers, servers, and network routers and switches.
“To address the challenges associated with legacy IT, agencies must select scalable and secure solutions. Agencies need a forward-looking, future-ready mindset and to consider virtualized, software-based and hyperconverged environments,” said Chehreh.
In the meantime, nearly a quarter of federal agency respondents said their agencies are hindered by unfamiliarity with viable solutions. Moreover, 22 percent of respondents said digital conversion strategies conflict with each other and available tools at the agencies’ disposal.
“Additionally, small steps are important to modernization,” said Chehreh. “Rather than taking on a daunting IT overhaul all at once, agencies should leverage modular innovation. Incremental modernization can gradually lower IT costs, increasing the percentage of budget available for further innovation.”
Though challenges may be present, agencies are still called to adhere to federal standards to uphold the integrity of their organizations, and to make updates, when financially feasible. Until these advancements are adopted, agencies need to work on creative ways to utilize their IT capabilities to protect and defend data and network systems.
“To remain effective, agencies need to focus on mission objectives and select the technologies most suitable for their needs,” said Chehreh. “Again, modular innovation can be beneficial to remaining effective. Software-based, virtualized infrastructure can help agencies build new IT into their systems, making improvements while allowing the agency to continue meeting mission objectives.”
“Through these investments, future-ready agencies are better equipped to meet needs, while keeping critical data secure,”Chehreh added.