Why government's next-gen data centers are looking a lot like Google's

Agencies are starting to catch on to the idea that software, not hardware, is the key to efficient storage.

Stop me if you've heard this one: The federal government, pushed to the brink by budget pressures, turns to "smarter" IT practices pioneered in the private sector.

It's a script so formulaic, you'd suspect it came from Hollywood:

INT. THE WHITE HOUSE – NIGHT

Steven VanRoekel sits at his desk, poring through federal data center cost and budget reports. He bangs his fist on the table in frustration.

VANROEKEL (to himself): “It’s just not possible! We’ll never be able to scale this way.”

As if on cue, the cell phone in his pocket springs to life with a mysterious ringtone.

LARRY PAGE: “Steven? It’s Page. You and I are about to save Washington. Meet me at the Google-Copter.”

Now perhaps this isn’t literally the way it happened. But somehow, a number of federal bigwigs caught wind of the fact that Google has a secret for making enormous data centers economically viable.

And it’s not just Google: Amazon, Facebook and the other Internet giants have known for years that it’s software, not hardware, that’s key to building more efficient, flexible and cost-effective data centers.

In particular, government stands to benefit from the software-centric approach to data storage, owing to the upsurge in public information being generated and stored in federal data centers and the strain this places on IT budgeting and scalability.

But what exactly is the software-centric model capable of, how does it operate and why has government taken so long to put it into practice?

Scene 1: Google lights the way

Many years ago, frustrated by expensive proprietary hardware and the costs of integrating disparate systems and replacing outdated ones, Google had an idea:

What if we could build a data center out of nothing but commodity servers -- purchased in bulk (on the cheap)  and ready to be swapped out, clustered together and controlled by intelligent, policy-driven software? Better yet, with brainy software at the helm, storage and compute could be converged into a single, hyper-efficient tier so that the pain of managing storage separately just goes away.

It all sounds simple in theory. In practice, however, it amounts to something quite difficult: a very large, very scaled-out cluster.

Still, this is precisely what Google built — with as many as 15,000 nodes in a single data center, all operating as one shared resource and all controlled by ingenious software to keep the system unified, efficient, highly available and resilient.

For Google, this meant enormous cost savings, both on capital expenditures when scaling out and on operating expenditures when maintaining the system.

But talking about this model as “advantageous” for Google misses the point. With enormous quantities (petabytes upon petabytes) of data to store and process, there was simply no viable alternative for Page’s company to pursue.

Put another way, the software-centric model has fast become an operational necessity for any organization storing massive, rapidly increasing amounts of data. Organizations such as Google and — as it happens — the federal government.

Scene 2: Government shrugs

So there’s a data center model that seems tailor-made for government that’s been enabling the cost-effective operations of big public Internet companies for years and that’s relatively inexpensive.

What, exactly, is the problem?

Well, for starters, the software-centric concept is disruptive in the government space, which means that storage and server companies have a lot of ground to defend and, incidentally, a lot of assets and influence with which to defend it.

Furthermore, even if government agencies could succeed in swapping out millions of dollars of proprietary hardware with commoditized x86-based servers, they would still need the software to control it — some very specialized, government-compatible software.

And here’s where we get to the root of the problem: Google devised its system for Google, not for government.

In attempting to replicate Google’s model, government IT professionals would have to solve two additional problems that Google never considered: 1) how to accommodate government’s voracious appetite for VMware-driven virtualization, and 2) how to deliver a standardized “plug and play” installation for hundreds of government entities with their own systems and applications.

The good news is that new, successful companies have created powerful, cost-effective solutions to these very issues — sometimes referred to as “converged infrastructure” challenges.

So the solutions do exist. But when you combine significant pressure from traditional storage and server vendors with government’s typical inertia, the software-centric model needs one additional catalyst: pain. For federal bigwigs to make the switch, they need to be feeling a whole lot of it.

Scene 3: The agony and the ecstasy

Typically, government data centers have a three-tiered architecture, with server and storage hardware connected by a dedicated network — either a storage-area network (SAN) or a network-attached storage (NAS) system.

This is a sensible approach, because it centralizes storage resources and reduces the inefficiencies and rigidity of directly attached storage (DAS) boxes.

But something bad happens to networked storage when data centers grow and virtualization expands: the SAN/NAS starts sucking up more and more time, energy and IT resources.

Eventually, when the data centers grow large enough, the costs, delays and inefficiencies take hold, and everyone starts to feel a great deal of pain.

That’s the problem in government today: Data centers are larger than they’ve ever been, and growing at a terrifying rate, thanks to the explosion of big data.

In fact, the massive growth of public information generated and stored in government data centers combined with the storage demands of virtualized computing have strained scalability to the absolute breaking point.

Thus, it’s no wonder that government is finally beginning to adopt the Google model: commoditized DAS storage that’s coordinated and controlled by intelligent software. In other words, the software-centric approach to storage.

After all, this isn’t an unproven, bleeding-edge concept; it’s simply bringing the hyper-efficiency of Google to the government back-office.

And when government can scale the way Google can scale, there’s your Hollywood ending.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.