The Broadcasting Board of Governors was once the poster child for federal data center sprawl.
When André Mendes joined the BBG as CIO in 2009, its headquarters had several full-fledged data centers and was littered with small closets full of servers. Virtualization was nonexistent.
The agency also owned eight storage systems, all from different vendors.
“It was the wrong way of doing things,” recalls Mendes, now the BBG’s interim CEO and director. “They were unable to keep up with demand, so when they needed more storage, another point solution was brought in. They were constantly chasing performance and wasting money.”
Three months into the job as CIO, Mendes launched a three-year plan to consolidate BBG’s IT infrastructure. Through technology standardization, virtualization and cloud computing, he reduced the number of data centers, including server closets, from 11 to three, cutting costs in the process.
Federal agencies have spent the past five years consolidating and optimizing their data centers to meet the objectives of the Federal Data Center Consoli-dation Initiative.
What Mendes and other federal IT leaders have learned through the process is that consolidation comes with added benefits, such as increased security, improved disaster recovery and better overall IT services.
That is in addition to the financial benefits realized through reduced IT spending, lower facilities costs and smaller energy bills. While never the direct intention of FDCCI, those benefits are a hidden bonus.
“Agencies that are virtualizing, modernizing their applications and moving to the cloud are going into a much smaller footprint,” says Jim Flyzik, a former Treasury Department CIO who is now president of The Flyzik Group consulting firm. “With better technology comes better efficiency.”
BBG’s Consolidation Strategy
To begin consolidation, Mendes first standardized the agency’s technology. For storage, he turned to NetApp’s storage area network (SAN) for video processing and HP SAN for general storage needs.
He virtualized servers and moved most of the agency’s applications to a commercial cloud, including email, voicemail and customer relationship management tools, along with the payroll, financial and human resources systems. The agency also archived its video storage through a cloud-based provider.
Today, BBG’s infrastructure is fully consolidated, featuring data centers that are more energy-efficient and cost-effective and easier to manage. One is dedicated to video processing, the second to redundancy, and the third hosts the virtualized server environment and storage hardware, Mendes says.
With 1,600 full-time employees and 650 contractors worldwide, the BBG is home to news outlets such as the Voice of America and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. The agency has saved a substantial sum of money through the consolidation process.
“Our mission is not to run servers and storage systems. It is to provide information and freedom of the press to people in some of the most repressive regimes in the world,” Mendes says. “Anytime I can save $1 million in infrastructure and dedicate that to content creation and distribution, I’m furthering our mission. At the same time, we can increase efficiency and the price-to-performance ratio of the infrastructure.”
The consolidation effort also helped to bolster security, reducing the number of storage and operating systems that require regular updating and patching. The agency eliminated older versions of operating systems, standardizing on Windows for its computers and standardized servers with Red Hat Linux.
“I’m leveraging all the security improvements that the vendors have brought to the table,” Mendes says.
The BBG’s cloud strategy plays a large role in disaster recovery: Because the agency’s cloud providers are widely dispersed geographically, they also offer redundancy. “They not only provide me the functionality of the apps, but they provide me with built-in disaster recovery,” Mendes says.
Virtualization Is Key
Virtualization played a major role in the General Services Administration’s consolidation effort.
GSA, which virtualized 75 percent of its applications, decommissioned 551 servers and closed 81 noncore data centers. IT staffers migrated those applications to three core data centers and plan to eliminate another 41 of the agency’s 122 remaining noncore facilities.
Previously, different lines of business within GSA implemented their own virtual infrastructures. Prompted by FDCCI, GSA consolidated into a single virtual infrastructure and established a shared services model. Through that structure, the CIO’s office can now manage data center operations while providing virtual servers, storage and data protection for internal business units as well as outside agencies — saving money while assuring a consistent, secure environment for all line-of-business applications.
The CIO’s office also has standardized replication technology, offering business unit application teams a level of data protection they could not afford.
Increasing Efficiencies, Boosting Productivity
Agency IT leaders say efforts to optimize data centers remain ongoing. The Labor Department is migrating applications from existing data centers to a private cloud at a new facility in Silver Spring, Md.
About 21 percent of the department’s data centers have been consolidated to date, but moving forward, the department also plans to begin migrating applications to the cloud. The commercial federal cloud is much more cost-effective than trying to do everything in-house, said Fred Whiteside, program manager for the Labor Department’s data center consolidation program.
“When we start talking efficiencies and cost-savings, I don’t have the numbers to bring the cost down like a cloud service provider with 1 million customers can,” Whiteside says.
Elsewhere, the BBG and GSA are beginning to deploy virtual desktops. The move supports mobility while also allowing employees to work remotely and still access applications and data.
Overall, consolidation, virtualization and cloud services allow all employees across the board to work more effectively and productively, Mendes says.
“We see a tremendous increase in functionality and reliability, and we’re basically allowing the agency to operate in a more efficient way,” he says.