Spotlight on Storage Virtualization: Wrangling Data

As USDA consolidates its business apps, virtualized storage helps the department wrangle all the data.

Moving nearly every business application the Agriculture Department runs to a single data center is a daunting prospect. To help meet the challenge USDA has been implementing virtualized storage to wrangle the massive amount of data needed to run these apps in a cost-effective manner.

The USDA’s National IT Center in Kansas City, Mo., will be home to every business app the department uses, except for specific financial apps run by the National Finance Center in New Orleans, which maintains its own apps, according to Clay Cole, NITC’s business director.

NITC maintains data for apps used by programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as the food stamp program, as well as applications used by firefighters in the Forest Service. It also hosts data for websites such as “Choose My Plate” for the Food and Nutrition Service, which educates the public on healthy eating. “NITC currently has about 1.8 petabytes of virtualized disk storage and almost 4.5PB of virtualized tape data for application data requirements,” Cole says.

NITC uses the virtualization capabilities of the Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform in combination with other commodity storage from Hitachi and other vendors to deliver robust, highly available tiers of disk storage for its storage area network customers. NetApp technology provides virtualized network-attached storage solutions and advanced data protection capabilities.

“Both technologies provide the cost-effective capacity and performance NITC customers require while also providing key data replication capabilities to address disaster recovery requirements,” Cole says.

NITC also has implemented IBM ­Virtualization Engine TS7700 virtual tape technology to fully virtualize and automate all mainframe tape operations. This will achieve significant savings, as well as deliver improved performance and recoverability of data.

A major challenge NITC faces is securing the process of replicating its data to a backup facility in St. Louis. “When we have a lot of data and disaster recovery requirements, replication is a big challenge for us to address. Not only do we have to get the bandwidth, but we have to do it securely,” Cole says. “We’re always looking for better ways to do that.”

The data center has used NetApp data protection and replication capabilities in combination with firewall technology to securely replicate data in support of data center consolidation projects.  

Finding the right technology and procuring it quickly also has been a major challenge. The data center established a Utility Computing Contract that enables the rapid acquisition of key disk storage technologies and services. “The ability to get those technologies can be challenging, but the UCC helps NITC react quickly to new requirements,” Cole says.



“We went from 50 percent storage utilization to 80 percent. This was achieved as a result of our storage virtualization implementation.”

— David Updike, Acting Director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Computer Center


“Server and storage virtualization have common benefits. They both enable agility, flexibility and improved resource effectiveness, which translates to reduced complexity, lower cost and better productivity.”

— Greg Schulz, Founder and Senior Adviser to the Server and StorageIO Group


“Virtualization has allowed GSA to provide a more consistent end-user experience. GSA is currently looking at storage virtualization technologies to better manage resources and lower costs while maintaining security and mobility.”

— Casey Coleman, CIO of the General Services Administration

<p>Jules Frazier/Getty Images</p>
Feb 01 2012