CBP moving e-mail to DHS' private cloud

Shift of services part of data-center consolidation plan

Customs and Border Protection officials are moving the agency’s collaboration software and e-mail services to a private cloud located in one of the Homeland Security Department’s new state-of-the-art data centers.

Microsoft SharePoint collaboration and Exchange e-mail services will be hosted by Hewlett-Packard starting in January at a DHS location, Kenneth Ritchhart, deputy assistant commissioner at CBP’s Office of Information and Technology, told attendees at the Oracle Federal Forum in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 20.

The move toward shared managed services aligns with DHS’ overall strategy to provide e-mail as a service through a private cloud platform to its various components and agencies as part of data-center consolidation efforts. Richard Spires, DHS' CIO, announced those plans last month.

DHS is on track to move 24 data centers into two large-scale centers by 2014, Spires said. One data center, located at NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, is managed by Computer Sciences Corp.; the other is located in southern Virginia and hosted by HP.

Related coverage:

DHS offers e-mail services via private cloud

CBP is facing a $216 million reduction in its IT budget for fiscal 2011. As a result, IT officials have to find ways to be more productive with fewer resources, Ritchhart said. CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the government and spends $2.2 billion on IT annually, he added.

CBP looked at public cloud-hosting services from Google and Microsoft but decided it would be cheaper to use DHS’ private cloud because of availability, security and service-level agreement issues associated with the portal and e-mail services.

Google had a very effective solution, but its personnel did not have security clearances and CBP couldn’t vet them. Plus, Google does not do actual deletes of data. Instead, it does logical deletes, and the services are co-mingled on the same infrastructure with other organizations’ data, Ritchhart said.

CBP plans to move 10,000 employee e-mail accounts every month to the new environment. The agency has more than 58,575 workers. CBP is looking to derive more efficiency out of its own 40,000 square feet of data-center space in Newington, Va. The agency has another 30,000 square feet of data-center facilities spread across the country.

To that end, CBP is deploying prebuilt server and storage appliances.

“Prebuilt appliances come ready to use — [they've] got the servers, storage, software, network, interfaces, management, [original equipment manufacturer] and systems tuning already done,” Ritchhart said. “You have to do a little bit of tuning with your data.”

CBP has implemented Oracle’s Exadata unified platform for transaction processing and data warehousing and the Exalogic application infrastructure. The agency installed two Exadata systems for testing because there were concerns that the systems would not perform as Oracle claimed. CBP now has 15 Exadata systems.

Performance is 10 times faster than with traditional servers. Batch queries went from 45 minutes to 35 seconds, and no major code changes were required, Ritchhart said.

Installation was relatively swift and performed within seven days. But there were challenges in the areas of power, cooling, network and data loading, he said. Some of those issues will be addressed with the latest version of Exadata, which sports new 10-gigabyte cards.

Some work still needs to be done to improve the patching process, but Oracle is working to iron out any bugs, he added.

Exadata is not a magic bullet, but it delivers the value and performance as promised. CBP will migrate all its Oracle databases to Exadata with the exception of financial systems, Ritchhart said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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