Virtualization as a strategic asset
Benefits such as speed and flexibility give IT the ability to add computing capacity quickly
Although the first reasons that federal agencies will deploy virtualization are to save money and meet government consolidation mandates, there’s a growing realization that virtualization can also help them in other ways.
Among the main side benefits of virtualization are the speed and flexibility it gives IT organizations to add computing capacity as needed simply by creating another virtual machine on a server. That has its drawbacks, of course, as evidenced by the sprawl that has overtaken many virtualized environments.
But for activities such as continuity of operations (COOP), it can be a major boon. Applications and operating systems are effectively decoupled from the hardware, so it’s an easy matter to bring the same system up on another virtual machine or another server that could be in a completely different physical location.
Before virtualization, recovering from problems at one site would have meant physically rehosting servers at another site, often hundreds or thousands of miles away. That would involve scores of people and take days if not weeks to accomplish, with all the disruption that meant for users.
Now, that can be handled by data center managers. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch, but the time and effort needed are dramatically less than COOP required in the past. Complex sites can be moved during natural or man-made disasters in just a few hours.
Even though current uses of virtualization are tied more closely to agency costs and efficiencies, the high availability of capacity that virtualization brings reminds people why they wanted virtualization in the first place.
“The cost savings [with virtualization] are obvious because you can drive up utilization so much,” said Mark Weber, president of NetApp’s U.S. Public Sector. “But you can also add a lot more redundancy into the environment by being able to move [virtual machines] around easily, as well as being able to stand applications up in a matter of hours or even minutes in some cases.”
For organizations that know what IT assets they have and how they are used, that can be an enormous benefit, he said, because virtualization allows agencies to appropriate assets faster and for more specific uses.
Virtualization can also be an asset for agency telework programs. Those are a mandated necessity since the enactment of the Telework Enhancement Act in late 2010. The law requires agencies to develop plans and capabilities to allow employees to telework more frequently.
Telework was previously a laborious process for employees and the IT staffers who had to support them. Laptops or home PCs had to be fully loaded with every possible application configuration to meet all contingencies, which was costly and time-consuming for IT to maintain. It was also a security headache because, even though remote workers could use virtual private networks to access agency resources, sensitive data would inevitably find its way onto remote workers’ hard drives.
With desktop virtualization, teleworkers don’t need to store anything on their mobile devices or home PCs. As long as the network connection holds up, the desktop image and data they use are accessed remotely, and everything stays on the agency server.
As agencies come to understand all the benefits of virtualization, they are looking for ways to use it more often, and it’s “absolutely getting baked into more and more deployments,” said Jim Smid, Chief Technology Officer at Iron Bow Technologies.
“It’s certainly there in more of the requests for proposals or quotations that we respond to,” he added. “And when we help agencies put together the requirements for new programs they are trying to roll out, we almost always include virtualization as part of the solutions set.”