Agency data centers

Agency data centers will never be the same

Government data centers are entering a period of radical change, triggered by budget limitations, the growth of mobile devices, cloud services and federal mandates for system consolidation.

As a result, IT systems engineers are rethinking the design and functions of all government data centers,  looking to harness new technology that helps control IT services costs and let agencies better serve both citizens and the government workforce.

As part of this transition, government agencies must effectively take advantage of extended computing power, technical solutions and economies of scale that will be offered by next-generation data centers as well as cloud providers that offer specific IT functions to agencies, according to a new report released by IDC Government Insights.

“Technology Selection: The Government Datacenter of the Future,” focuses on both the near- and long-term future of government data centers.  As agencies close smaller facilities and server closets, expect to see fewer dedicated data centers. However, those remaining facilities will be quite large, serving multiple customers, the report states. The buildings themselves will be located in regions where real estate prices and the costs of electricity are lower. They will be designed to maximize passive cooling and heating, and be equipped with new types of modular, hot-swappable hardware designed to support heavily virtualized software.

Additionally, energy efficiency will be boosted while allowing data center managers to tap into alternative energy resources such as wind, solar, nuclear, wave energy and geothermal solutions, the report states.
 “Data center location, style, look and feel will be very important” not only for reducing energy consumption but for accommodating the shared services model that federal, state and local governments are adopting, said Shawn McCarthy, IDC Government Insights’ research director.

Agencies, reacting to their own internal budget limits and information technology needs, are turning over certain IT services such as e-mail, storage and backup, and website hosting to cloud providers.  At the state and local level, Utah, Michigan and states involved in the Western States Contracting Alliance are offering hosted solutions to counties and cities. This allows the state governments to serve as cloud providers and local municipalities to drop certain IT services from their locally hosted and maintained solutions.

In the next-generation data center, software solutions will consolidate around specific business functions.  Agencies will make those functions available as hundreds of discreet services that can be tapped into, via the cloud, by multiple applications and multiple agencies. Some of those business functions include asset/materials management, customer relationship management, data management, financial management, human resources, security management, supply chain management and systems management.

Enterprise architecture designs will have to support the evolving needs of users who will rely on services delivered via these emerging data centers.  EA architects will have to address the need for increased efficiency through the use of more converged hardware and software solutions. EA must play a role in the move toward modular business functions based on standard platforms and data sets, which can be reused in multiple departments, the report states.

“Changes are very iterative and they can take years to unfold, depending on the budgets and preferences of individual agencies,” McCarthy said.  However, IT managers must familiarize themselves with how datacenters are evolving, in order to take advantage of new resources, he said.

Those are issues officials at the Interior Department are tackling as DOI moves to establish a smaller data center footprint. DOI has consolidated 33 data centers since October 2010, and is expected to consolidate up to 13 more by the end of 2012. The department issued a request for proposals in July seeking cloud-based hosting services to help modernize the way DOI applications and data are stored and managed, and to help it reduce its data center footprint by 45 percent by the end of 2015.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has moved various facilities and systems to a primary data center in Albuquerque, N.M., and has a disaster recovery facility in another location.  The Bureau of Land Management has had a big consolidation push moving systems to a data center in Portland, Ore., and Denver, Colo., said Bernard Mazer, CIO of Interior. In fact, BLM is using power metering tools to help measure the energy efficiency cost savings and benefits derived from the consolidation efforts that could be a blueprint for other DOI agencies.

Mazer addressed an audience of government and industry representatives recently at The Data Center Decathlon, a seminar on how to improve data center fitness held by 1105 Media, NetApp, Cisco and Intel in Washington, D.C.

Don’t just move stuff, Mazer advised. Planning for which systems and applications to move is essential, a view that coincides with advice in the IDC report. Agencies should integrate their data center and telecommunications planning and execution, Mazer said.

IT managers should also realize that data centers only exist to serve the data and applications needs of users. Mazer also suggested that agencies use virtualization technology to increase utilization of current IT investments.

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