To that end, Folkoff’s Strategic Innovation Group worked with the federal government last year to relaunch the decade-old recreation.gov website, which provides information and real-time booking for more than 100,000 campsites and facilities on federal lands across the country.
The infrastructure needed to be agile, reliable, and scalable—as well as repeatable for the other federal agencies that are among Booz Allen Hamilton’s customers. “The only way that we thought we could be successful with this problem across all the different agencies is to create a microservice architecture, so that we could be very dynamic and very agile to any given agency for whatever requirements that they may have,” says Folkoff.
Booz Allen Hamilton, which has provided consulting services to the federal government for more than a century, introduced microservices, Docker containers, and AWS to its federal agency clients about five years ago. The next logical step was Kubernetes for orchestration. “Knowing that we had to be really agile and really reliable and scalable, we felt that the only technology that we know that can enable those kinds of things are the ones the CNCF provides,” Folkoff says. “One of the things that is always important for the government is to make sure that the things that we build really endure. Using technology that is supported across multiple different companies and has strong governance gives people a lot of confidence.”
Kubernetes was also aligned with the government’s open source and IT modernization initiatives, so there has been an uptick in its usage at federal agencies over the past two years. “Now that Kubernetes is becoming offered as a service by the cloud providers like AWS and Microsoft, we’re starting to see even more interest,” says Chief Technologist Josh Boyd. Adds Folkoff: “With CNCF, there’s a lot of focus on scale, and so there’s a lot of comfort knowing that as the project grows, we’re going to be comfortable using that tool set.”
The greenfield recreation.gov project allowed the team to build a new Kubernetes-enabled site running on AWS, and the migration lasted only a week, when the old site didn’t take bookings. “For the actual transition, we just swapped a DNS server, and it only took about 35 seconds between the old site being down and our new site being up and available,” Folkoff adds.
In addition to its work with the Department of Interior for recreation.gov, Booz Allen Hamilton has brought Kubernetes to various Defense, Intelligence, and civilian agencies. Says Boyd: “When there’s a regulatory change in an agency, or a legislative change in Congress, or an executive order that changes the way you do business, how do I deploy that and get that out to the people who need it rapidly? At the end of the day, that’s the problem we’re trying to help the government solve with tools like Kubernetes.”
For recreation.gov, the impact was clear and immediate. With the Kubernetes platform, Folkoff says, “if a new requirement for a permit comes out, we have the ability to design and develop and implement that completely independently of reserving a campsite. It provides a much better experience to users.” Today, changes can be implemented in about 30 minutes, compared to the multiple hours or even days legacy government applications require to review the code, get approval, and deploy the fix. Recreation.gov deploys to production on average 10 times a day.
Developer velocity has been improved. “When I want to do monitoring or security or logging, I don’t have to do anything to my services or my application to enable that anymore,” says Boyd. “I get all of this magic just by being on the Kubernetes platform.” With all of those things built in, developers can create and publish new services to production within one week.
Additionally, Folkoff says, “supporting the large, existing monoliths in the government is extremely expensive,” and migrating into a more modern platform has resulted in perhaps 50% cost savings. “Kubernetes alone enables a dramatic reduction in cost as resources are prioritized to the day’s event,” he says. “For example, during a popular campsite release, camping-related services are scaled out while permit services are scaled down.”
So far, “Kubernetes is a great solution for us,” says Folkoff. “It allows us to rapidly iterate on our clients’ demands.” Looking ahead, the team sees further adoption of the Kubernetes platform across federal agencies. Says Boyd: “You get the ability for the rapid delivery of business value for your customers. You now have observability into everything that you’re doing. You don’t have these onesies and twosies unicorn servers anymore. Now everything that you deploy is deployed in the same way, it’s all instrumented the same way, and it’s all built and deployed the same way through our CI/CD processes.”
They also see a push toward re-platforming. “There’s still a lot of legacy workloads out there,” says Boyd. “We’ve got the new challenges of greenfield development and integration with legacy systems, but also that brown field of ‘Hey, how do I take this legacy monolith and get it onto a platform where now it’s instrumented with all the magic of the Kubernetes platform without having to do a whole lot to my application?’ I think re-platforming is a pretty big use case for the government right now.”
And given the success that they’ve had with Kubernetes so far, Boyd says, “I think at this point that technology is becoming pretty easy to sell.” Adds Folkoff: “People are really excited about being able to deploy, scale, be reliable, and do cheaper maintenance of all of this.”