Virtualization: The shape of things to come
Government information technology enterprises will not go virtual overnight, but it will happen sooner rather than later, according to a survey conducted by the 1105 Government Information Group.
The survey of federal, state and local IT professionals found that virtualization in various forms – desktop, server and storage – continues to gain ground in government agencies.
In many agencies, the process of virtualization -- in which an array of IT resources are pooled to provide greater management flexibility and improved operational efficiency – is likely to accelerate in coming years, especially in the data center.
In fact, 68 percent of respondents said that within the next five years, their agencies were likely to virtualize their entire data center infrastructure. Only 11 percent disagreed, while 21 percent of respondents were neutral.
The promise of cost savings is a major draw. All told, 71 percent of respondents said they expected data center virtualization to lead to significant savings. Experts cite numerous ways in which virtualization can improve the cost effectiveness of the data center, but energy efficiency is often one of the primary goals of virtualization initiatives.
By increasing the use of existing systems, virtualization can help agencies manage the growth of their data center operations over time, even as the demand for IT services continues to surge.
That’s the goal at the Social Security Administration. According to SSA’s 2012 progress report on data center consolidation, the agency hired a consultant to develop a strategy for managing data center operations over the next 30 years.
“As a result of this study, SSA is actively working on a consolidation and virtualization effort that will enable the agency to capitalize on state-of-the-art, energy-efficient equipment layouts and designs,” the report states. “It will allow SSA to move into the new data center, which will have a reduced computer room floor footprint.”
That explains the confidence that respondents had about future funding for virtualization projects. The survey found that 40 percent of them expected their budget allocations for virtualization technology to increase in the new fiscal year, with another 53 percent saying their allocations would hold steady. Only 7 percent expected a decrease.
As an added benefit, agencies are finding that virtualization also can lower the cost of their continuity of operations strategy. In an interview last year with Federal Computer Week, Mike Rosier, senior systems administrator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, said virtualization provides a cost-effective way to offer backup and failover options, compared to traditional clustering solutions.
“Virtualization can allow you…to focus more of your efforts on configuring a relatively low number of redundant systems capable of providing enough failover capacity to weather varying types of outages,” Rosier said.
The potential cost savings would be meaningless if IT managers were not confident in the technology itself. But 72 percent of respondents said their agencies were comfortable running mission-critical systems on virtual machines.
That is the case at the Defense Department. According to the DOD IT Enterprise Strategy and Roadmap, the department is using virtualization technology to improve the efficiency of IT operations in its African and European commands.
As part of the Joint Enterprise Network, virtualization technology will enable multiple organizations to access standardized network-centric services, according to the report. Ultimately, DOD expects the network to make it possible to integrate 50 Army sites into a common Defense Information Systems Network theater infrastructure.
However, most agencies are more likely to make a more gradual shift toward virtualization, deploying enterprise applications in a variety of ways, the survey found.
For example, on average, 32 percent of enterprise applications are now being hosted on premises via physical servers, compared to 27 percent hosted on premises via virtualized servers and 28 percent via the cloud. Thirteen percent is hosted in a hybrid on-premises/in-cloud environment. In two years, the portion of applications hosted on premises via physical servers is expected to drop 4 percent, with 2 percent of those applications being shifted to on-premises virtualized servers and the other 2 percent to a hybrid environment.
Officials at Federal Student Aid, part of the Education Department, anticipate taking a dual-pronged approach as part of its Virtual Data Center strategy. According to a solicitation document, they are open to physical and virtual services and private and public cloud service offerings.