Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

The future of the data center is software-defined

Government IT managers, looking for ways to increase the agility and flexibility of their data center infrastructure, are showing a keen interest in extending virtualization beyond servers, not just to storage but to an integrated server-storage platform, according to a recent survey. It makes sense. The benefits gained by virtualizing compute resources—e.g., increased flexibility, scalability and manageability—also can be had by virtualizing other aspects of the enterprise.

For starters, a growing number of organizations are taking a look at software-defined storage as an underpinning of a virtual data center environment. SDS involves the separation of storage management policies from the hardware layer. In this approach, overall intelligence is abstracted into a distributed software layer instead of residing in specialized hardware.

The survey, by the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, revealed more than two-thirds of respondents said their agencies have either already implemented or are investigating SDS. All told, 24 percent of respondents indicated their agency has fully adopted SDS, while another 47 percent said their agency is investigating the approach.

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In its May 2013 report, “Software-Defined Storage Will Sound the Death Knell for Traditional Storage Provisioning,” market research firm Forrester Research notes that storage budgets have outstripped rapidly expanding data stores, thus making a strong case for use of SDS. By adopting SDS, organizations can tailor specific performance and capacity requirements to increase storage efficiency, the report states.

A number of technologies and applications are increasing organizational data loads at the same time that organizations are scaling back storage budgets, the report notes. The applications that are increasing the data load include enterprise content management, machine-created data logs, audio and video data, social networking and collaboration initiatives.

Despite the advent of cloud storage, storage provisioning remains a slow and clumsy process that is ripe for an architectural overhaul, the report states. SDS addresses the ongoing storage challenge that organizations face by accelerating the delivery of storage resources.

“SDS does not equal software-only storage today, but will become a major force in storage over the next five years—though we do not expect hardware storage appliances to disappear anytime in the foreseeable future,” the report states.

But software-defined storage is only part of solution, experts say. To leverage the full benefits of virtualization, organizations should consider managing compute and storage resources in tandem. This concept of a converged platform—a server appliance with built-in storage—is rapidly gain adherents.

The benefits of an integrated approach are numerous. Studies have shown that integrating compute and storage virtualization delivers data I/O with low latency. Additionally, it provides a much greater ability to scale up a data center without the constraints. Finally, an integrated environment is much easier to manage.

In the survey, 68 percent agreed that such an approach leads to improved performance of applications, while only 14 percent disagreed.

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These findings align with a 2013 study, “Innovation Inspiration: Can Software Save IT?” by MeriTalk, which reported in its survey that 66 percent of the federal IT managers who participated in the study said that their agency is currently transitioning to software-defined data centers, while 59 percent said their agency is currently shifting to SDS and 55 percent said that their agency is moving to software-defined networking.

When asked how long it will take for federal agencies to make a full transition to a software-defined enterprise, respondents said it will likely require at least three years, according to MeriTalk.

Some organizations, recognizing the benefits, attempt to put together their own solutions. But researchers at Forrester say that such work might be more complex than IT managers expect. “The complexity and risk associated with assembling complex solutions is significant, and Forrester believes that one way to reduce this risk is through the purchase of ‘engineered solutions,’ i.e., vendor-integrated systems that combine server, storage and network components to deliver optimized results for key workloads, such as virtual server environments,” Forrester analysts wrote in a recent report.

Methodology and survey demographics

Between February 21st and March 1st, 2014, 107 subscribers of FCW, GCN and other Public Sector Media Group publications responded to an e-mail survey about networking and storage trends in government agencies. Survey respondents were comprised of those involved with networking and storage operations for their department or agency. Beacon Technology Partners developed the methodology, fielded the survey and compiled the results.

Approximately 88% of respondents were technology decision-makers (CIOs or other IT managers or professionals), while 12 percent were senior managers, program managers or other business decision-makers. Approximately 67 percent came from the federal government (34 percent civilian, 33 percent defense) and 33 percent from state or local government agencies.

About this Report

This report was commissioned by the Content Solutions unit, an independent editorial arm of 1105 Public Sector Media Group. Specific topics are chosen in response to interest from the vendor community; however, sponsors are not guaranteed content contribution or review of content before publication. For more information about 1105 Public Sector Media Group Content Solutions, please email us at PSMGCustomMedia@1105media.com