Aug 24 2015

SSA’s New Data Center a Networking Masterpiece

New facility leverages latest in technology to provide agency with 99.9 percent uptime.

The Social Security Administration turned the lights on to a new data center in April, starting an application migration that will drastically improve service to the millions of Americans that take part in Social Security.

For an early review, though, Larry Schwab, SSA’s director of network engineering, only needs to make one call for honest feedback.

“I’ll call my mother,” says Schwab, who is overseeing the migration to the new facility, known as the National Support Center. “She is in her 70s and has been using Social Security since 2003. She is one of our prime users.”

And the feedback?

“She says it keeps getting better and better.”

The 30,000 square foot building, built in Urbana, Md., was needed to replace a 30-year-old support center that was never built to be a data center, lacking the changing technology and electricity requirements.

It’s no surprise to hear that review or the other positive ones that have surrounded the new facility. After opening on April 1, the agency has migrated more than half of its open systems to the center in that time. That is, in part, thanks to the infrastructure created to support the data center, which is expected to help the agency handle the influx of baby boomers that will soon retire.

The new data center has expanded server virtualization; eliminating hundreds of physical servers and using thin provisioning to increase storage capacity. Creating the infrastructure for the facility was a long-term process that included extensive planning, design, testing and implementation phases.

The NSC provides unprecedented redundancy for SSA. In the past, the agency leaned on data centers — one in Baltimore, the other in Durham, N.C. — that would provide support to one another. The increased workload, though, would slow traffic, even with a backup. The NSC gives SSA a three-site architecture design during the migration phase that so far has the agency’s uptime above 99.9 percent since the migration began.

“We’re making one giant cloud infrastructure that is a big enhancement over what we previously had,” Schwab said. “From a network standpoint, the transition has been seamless.”

To make the transition, SSA partnered with Cisco, who has had an ongoing relationship with the agency for more than 15 years. The agency used Cisco’s Nexus platform that could meet a list of specific needs the agency had and build a solution that would serve SSA for years to come.

The partnership included training of SSA staff so they could become experts in the technology before it went live.

“They understood our needs and it enabled us to design the architecture together that could serve as our primary core network infrastructure,” Schwab said. “It met all of our needs now and all of the ones we anticipate in the future.”


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