Virtualization gives Interior telework flexibility, cost savings

When Hurricane Sandy battered the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area with high winds and heavy rain in October, forcing the federal government to close offices for two days, the Interior Department rapidly set up virtual servers to accommodate the network and bandwidth needs of employees working from home.

Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Protection used virtualization technology to set up Citrix virtual servers to handle the increased demand for telecommuting, according to Interior’s CIO Bernard Mazer.  Additionally, IT administrators in Interior’s Denver, Colo., data center were able to set up Citrix servers in a matter of minutes to handle the increased workload.

“The government was shut down, but if you had the ability to telework, you had to work,” Mazer said.  About 40 percent of Interior’s workforce in the Washington, D.C., telework, he said.

Mazer described how virtualization technology is critical for data center design and consolidation by lowering the cost of IT operations and promoting energy efficiency, to an audience of government and industry executives at a conference held by FCW and several industry partners in Washington, D.C., Nov. 8.

Server virtualization has been in full swing for several years at many federal agencies, and now many agency IT managers are implementing storage, desktop and client virtualization projects. Virtualization allows a single physical server to run multiple guest operating systems as a way of making more efficient use of the hardware, which frees data center space and achieves greater IT operational and energy efficiencies.

For Interior, the immediate benefits of virtualization is better utilization of deployed IT equipment, Mazer said.  Virtualization also gives DOI more flexible hosting solutions and makes the department more hardware independent. The technology lets Interior move toward cloud computing by allowing DOI to deploy on-demand provisioning for storage or computing resources.  Finally, the technology helps Interior to reduce capital spending on IT hardware, Mazer said.

Mazer gave other examples of how some Interior bureaus have saved money and reduced data center power usage through the adoption of virtualization.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs uses two virtualization products, depending on location. VMware technology is used for enterprise applications located at the bureau’s primary data centers.  Virtual servers typically run on blade servers in these locations, which are equipped with enterprise-grade storage-area networks. Field locations use Microsoft Hyper-V on commodity servers.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has achieved a 17 percent reduction in power usage costs in the Albuquerque, N.M., data center through the virtualization of 188 servers onto 20 virtual servers, Mazer said.

The Bureau of Land Management retired 200 servers in its network operations center in Denver. Through a VMware-based deployment, data center managers reduced 200 servers into approximately 29 server racks and virtualized into two blade chassis for a total of 28 blade servers in one rack.  They were able to reduce power consumption from 180 kilowatts to 105 kilowatts, saving more energy and reducing utility costs.

The National Park Service uses Microsoft Hyper-V and has been able to achieve a 28 percent reduction in power usage in the Denver data center, which had more than 80 servers.  In Washington, D.C., the Park Service has decommissioned about 100 servers using Hyper-V, achieving savings in cooling workloads and capacity, he said.

Interior has approximately 14,000 servers, Mazer said, noting the department is continuously working to reduce that number and move into flexible hosting environments.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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