SSA consolidates infrastructure in 21st-Century data center

Editor's Note: This blog post was originally published at CIO.gov.

Bill Zielinski is the Deputy Commissioner for Systems and CIO at the Social Security Administration.

The Social Security Administration has embarked on an ambitious project to create an IT infrastructure facility for the 21st Century as part of a plan to consolidate our core data centers.

Located just outside Baltimore, the National Support Center (NSC) is a new 300,000 square foot state of the art facility that will meet all of the Social Security Administration's core data storage, computing, and bandwidth needs. The new Tier 3 data center is designed to be powerful, flexible, and energy efficient. With the data center we will expand server virtualization and reduce our equipment footprint, eliminate hundreds of physical servers, and take advantage of thin provisioning to increase data storage efficiency, decrease costs, and allow for more flexibility and scalability to meet SSAs data storage and processing needs.

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The SSA leveraged funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for planning and construction costs and the project finished three months ahead of schedule and under budget. But completing the construction was just the beginning.

After finishing building construction on the NSC, we've made significant progress in the preparation for the migration of our Mainframe and Open Systems, scheduled to occur in 2015. At the end of October last year, we reached a major milestone in our virtualization process when we completed the tape conversion to a virtual-tape library. As a result, the NSC decreased its monthly energy consumption for the first time. And in November 2014, we began the installation of our networking and storage infrastructure – a key step in preparations for our migration work in 2015. This phase is scheduled to be completed in March of this year at which point we will begin the work to migrate all of our productions environments to the NSC over approximately the following 18 months, finishing the migration work in August 2016.

Even as we continue to meet our targets for consolidation at the NSC, we also have focused on ensuring we are creating a truly exceptional facility. The new data center at the NSC comes with a host of energy efficient features and equipment, including high density computing, convergent monitoring, hot aisle-containment, Energy Star equipment, and solar power. We'll also be able to monitor power utilization down to branch circuits, thereby improving load management and control. It contains LED lighting, a dedicated substation, and efficient heating and cooling systems designed to reduce energy consumption by 30 percent compared to typical data centers all the while creating a more flexible, powerful, and stable infrastructure platform for SSA.

With these new features and technologies, we expect the NSC to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in energy costs. And to help us understand how close we are coming to those savings, we have begun to identify methods to measure the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) of our current data center. Once the PUE is measured, we will use it as a baseline against our efficiency improvements at the NSC to make sure we meet our targets for energy efficiency.

As SSA looks to expand its digital services, develop self-service options that meet the growing needs of the American public and continue to play a critical role in cross-government collaborations, it is critical that its data center serve as an enabler. While it is exciting to oversee the creation of this critical facility, the possibilities it brings as we move into the 21st Century are even more thrilling!

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