Data Center Consolidation: It's the Network's Turn

Since 2010, federal agencies have worked hard to consolidate data centers in compliance with several mandates, including the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI), the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), and most recently, the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI). Thousands have already been shuttered or consolidated. And OMB expects that number to increase further by 2018.

In many cases, agencies have focused on server and storage reduction and virtualization. The network remains a distant third. In many ways, consolidating servers and storage has been the “low-hanging fruit” in data centers. That’s partly because networking has traditionally been more difficult to downsize and modernize. Yet it’s a crucial part of effective data center consolidation. What’s more, with modern technologies and tools, it’s no longer as difficult.

The traditional networking model in data centers is inefficient, fragmented, difficult to scale, expensive and hard to manage. A more virtualized, software-based networking model addresses these challenges.

So virtualizing the network is the first step. This removes most of the hardware from the equation, and replaces it with software. The software deploys and manages network servers and resources. While some physical networking devices remain, their job is to forward packets. This infrastructure helps network managers program, deploy and manage virtual networks on demand; scaling and deploying them wherever and whenever required.

Network virtualization typically requires two technologies—software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV). SDN separates network control and data flow, combines multiple physical devices into one logical network, and helps IT staff centrally manage and program network services. SDN improves security by centralizing security policy and configuration management information, blocking malicious traffic from endpoints, and automating network security remediation. It also provides more visibility throughout the network.

NFV separates network functions like intrusion detection, routers, application delivery controllers (ADC), load balancers and firewalls from the hardware devices upon which they run. It replaces the hardware with software. NFV and SDN usually are employed together to create a virtualized network infrastructure.

The next layer of network virtualization extends software-defined network capabilities to wide area networks that connect remote users and branch offices. The SD-WAN (software-defined wide area network) combines multiple physical networks into one virtual network. This helps network managers continuously balance the load and route packets correctly and efficiently. It also simplifies network management, configuration and upgrading while ensuring high availability, visibility, performance and scalability.

Cloud-enabling the data center is the next logical step. With the federal government’s cloud-first mandate, it’s on the minds of every agency IT leader. While some have made greater forays into the cloud than others, all are looking for more opportunities.

Network virtualization is the perfect stepping-stone for moving to cloud services because the network is now centrally managed, and operating with full visibility. Once the network is virtualized, it’s much easier to manage not only physical workloads, but virtual and container-based workloads that originate in the cloud.

By cloud-enabling the data center, it’s also simpler to provide compute resources to employees on demand. Agencies can also provide entire networks on demand, configured for specific use cases, geographies, workloads or employees.