At a briefing this summer, Scott Renda, portfolio manager for the Office of Management and Budget cloud computing and Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, stressed a key point about stated goals to close a significant number of physical data centers by 2015: “Data center consolidation is a means to an end but not the end itself.”
The “end” recently became even cloudier when testimony from a Government Accountability Office official indicated that more than 7,000 federal data centers may still exist, more than double the prior estimate. According to the OMB, the new figure may be due to an expanded data center definition but reinforces the fact that although it is important to focus on shuttering and consolidating nonperforming data centers and consolidating physical infrastructure, agencies should not lose sight of subsequent phases of data center consolidation and the cost savings and efficiencies that can be realized.
A 2013 survey of federal information technology professionals conducted by MeriTalk on behalf of NetApp gauged impressions of federal data center consolidation efforts. This midterm report on FDCCI finds both successes and barriers, including the fact that 71 percent of respondents said their agency has closed data centers; 60 percent see better use of IT staff; reduced energy consumption, 57 percent; and increased use of new platforms and technology, 47 percent.
On the flip side, there is a clear need to connect consolidation efforts to cost savings, particularly because only half of feds believe their agency is on target to close 1,200 data centers by 2015. More than that, only 32 percent of agencies report quantifiable cost savings.
Significant cost savings and efficiencies cannot be achieved by only closing physical data centers. By extending consolidation of IT infrastructure down to the shared server, storage, network and application level, agencies can experience several key benefits:
Multi-tenancy refers to an architecture in which a single instance of a software application serves multiple customers. In a federal data center, multi-tenancy for email and other business applications is where much of the cost savings and efficiencies around consolidation can be realized.
Eliminating a handful of obsolete servers that run singular applications can save a few dollars, but if an agency just moves old, inefficient applications and systems to another facility, they are leaving a big pot of cost savings on the table. Additional cost savings from moving to a consolidated infrastructure can be seen in both capital and operational expenditures.
Reducing agency footprint
Moving to a shared environment where multiple tenant applications use the same infrastructure, server, storage, networking and software in a secure manner reduces an agency’s real estate footprint costs by closing centers and reducing the hardware and software infrastructure that is required. Reducing the hardware and software leads to a smaller physical footprint.
Using the right technology, a shared environment also benefits agencies through nondisruptive upgrades, increased scalability and easy integration with numerous software and hardware platforms. A properly designed converged infrastructure can allow customers to nondisruptively migrate data to meet service-level agreements, accomplish maintenance and continue operating during hardware failures.
More specifically, clustering resources can allow agencies to consolidate several high-availability applications into a single converged infrastructure that can meet reliability and availability requirements demanded by high-performance data centers.
Enhanced security posture
An additional benefit is security. Secure multi-tenant environments logically separate customer functions on the same architecture. However, a converged architecture also makes it easier to monitor and secure resources within a data center.
Compared with a disparate infrastructure, the centralized location of data in a consolidated infrastructure makes it easier to layer security throughout the stack and provide better security for the applications and tenants using the services.
Rob Stein is vice president of federal civilian agencies at NetApp, a leading cloud storage provider.