IRS flips storage for virtualized cloud service offering

IRS flips storage for virtualized cloud service offering

The IRS is on track to slash its storage costs by 30 percent and speed the time it takes to deploy new storage systems from months to days, thanks to its Enterprise Storage Acquisition contract.

The 10-year contract, awarded to Unisys in 2012, could be worth as much as $139 million if all options are exercised. Under the terms of the deal, Unisys acquired all of IRS’s storage systems located in seven IRS data centers and facilities.

Unisys then converted those systems into a new private cloud-based storage-as-a-service model that allows IRS to pay for storage capacity as needed.

“Virtualization of storage allows you to not have an overcapacity of storage and to not have stovepiped storage, but to manage storage as a single entity,” said Peter Gallagher, group vice president for Unisys Federal Systems. “There are huge opportunities to save if you treat storage as an enterprise resource.”

Unisys said it has migrated more than 90 percent of relevant IRS data to the private storage cloud it operates for the agency. The firm said it has more than 6 petabytes of usable allocated storage in the private storage cloud available to the IRS.

One advantage of the contract is that IRS can deploy storage systems in a matter of days, instead of six to eight months.

Because Unisys has created a virtualized storage pool with buffer allocations, IRS can provision some storage requests in hours. Very large requests for storage – more than 75 terabytes – take a month or more to deliver.

“Because the time to deploy new disk drives and new arrays was very lengthy, program managers tended to buy more than they needed. That led to a lot of unused capacity in their environment” said Kevin McCarthy, vice president for Infrastructure optimization solutions at Unisys. “With virtualized storage, we’re able to maximize capacity usage and align the performance of the data with the application.”

Unisys has deployed storage systems from IBM, NetApp, EMC and others in the private cloud it uses to support IRS.  The company provides IRS with four performance tiers of data storage, from high input/output, low-latency down to lower speed disks, depending on the application. 

Unisys has also developed management processes that were recently ISO 20000 certified for moving data around the storage systems to drive up utilization.

“We help the IRS manage their data  As application needs change, we’re monitoring that and moving the data to the right tier,” McCarthy added.

One of the challenges of the contract was developing a billing system that ensures the IRS only pays for the storage capacity it uses.

“The IRS business model has changed with this contract,” Gallagher said. “Before, individuals from the IRS were incentivized to purchase as much storage as they needed for a project. (Now) we’re incentivized to limit the amount of storage … We have people trying to minimize and optimize the footprint.’’

McCarthy said the IRS contract offers two key lessons to data center operators. First, you need to have well-defined processes for storage-as-a-service. Second, you have to be very careful when you build a cloud-based storage system around legacy equipment.

“It takes a lot of coordination, a lot of migrating and testing, to make sure you get the performance you are promising the customer,”  McCarthy said. “If you don’t have a large storage environment, the business case may not be there for a private cloud.”

About the Author

Carolyn Duffy Marsan is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisc., covering enterprise technology.

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