Aug 16 2016

Cloud Adoption Could Jump Thanks to Federal Data Center Optimization Initiative

As agencies shutter data centers, they are being encouraged to continue shifting to virtualized solutions for storage, networking and computing.

The Data Center Optimization Initiative could be the best thing to happen to federal cloud adoption in a while.

The DCOI, the federal government’s latest push to get agencies to consolidate and close data centers across the country, is designed to save money and boost efficiency, but policymakers have other goals as well. In addition to improving security, the policy is designed to spur the adoption of cloud services and interagency shared services.

As agencies start to implement the new policy, which was officially unveiled earlier this month, they may be adding more cloud services to their mix of IT.

Pushing into the Cloud

The DCOI supersedes the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative that began in 2010.

As previously required by the FDCCI, the new mandate says that agencies “shall continue to principally reduce application, system, and database inventories to essential enterprise levels by increasing the use of virtualization to enable pooling of storage, network and computer resources, and dynamic allocation on-demand.”

After that, agencies are required to explore options for consolidating or closing existing data centers by transitioning to provisioned Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) models “to the furthest extent practicable, consistent with the Cloud First policy.”

Beyond moving to the cloud, agencies can also explore migrating to interagency shared services or colocation data centers, or migrating to more optimized data centers within the agency’s data center footprint.

However, the DCOI clearly envisions that agencies will start using more cloud services going forward as data centers get optimized and consolidated. For more than five years, the federal government has been pursuing a formal “Cloud First” policy that requires agencies to default to using a cloud-based technology if they can find a secure, reliable and cost-effective solution.

As the DCOI notes, cloud environments are scalable and allow agencies to provision resources as required, on demand.

Under the new data center policy, “agencies shall use cloud infrastructure where possible when planning new mission or support applications or consolidating existing applications.”

A New Enticement

Federal officials expect cloud adoption to increase as a result of the policy.

“I think you’re going to hear, any time we utter ‘data center optimization,’ it’s always going to be ‘… and the subsequent move to the cloud,’” Dominic Sale, deputy associate administrator for information integrity and access at the General Services Administration, said at the July 26 ATARC Federal Cloud Computing Summit in Washington, D.C., according to Federal News Radio. “I tell my team this is the biggest on-ramp to the cloud since FedRAMP was set up. I think this is going to be another key component of that cross-agency cloud initiative.”

The new policy emphasizes that cloud and shared services are examples of more efficient IT infrastructure that agencies need to move to.

“Those last two kind of speak to the data center marketplace, shared services and industry providers, and how do we bring agencies closer to those and bring the tools to bear to make their jobs easier, because data center owners have a very tough job ahead of them here,” Sale said at the ATARC event, referring to cloud services and shared services. “I think data center optimization is a great way, kind of an enticement, to get on the cloud.”

According to the Government Accountability Office, the number of federal data centers grew to 11,700 by November 2015, up from more than 9,000 in 2014, 2,100 in 2011 and 1,100 in 2009.

Over the course of the three-year DCOI, agencies are required to close at least 25 percent of their tiered data centers (their large data center facilities) and 60 percent of their nontiered data centers (such as server rooms). Scott noted that the closures will amount to about 52 percent of the overall federal data center inventory and a reduction of roughly 31 percent in the real estate footprint occupied by data centers governmentwide.

Despite the push for cloud adoption, some agency IT leaders say that it remains difficult to make the migration. On the one hand, cloud service providers need to receive approval to operate from the GSA’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which FedRAMP is trying to speed up.

Moving to the cloud can simplify many aspects of agencies’ IT, but it can also increase complexity because of how it changes processes.

“The greatest challenge is not getting a contract in place, but what you find out is where those boundaries cross of who's now responsible because you're in a different infrastructure setup, and what the cloud provider’s going to do versus the contract staff, versus the application support staff, versus the infrastructure staff,” Marlon Andrews, deputy CIO at the National Archives and Records Administration, said at an industry event in April, according to CIO. “So, that’s the greatest challenge we're having now is defining roles and responsibilities and who's going to do what, because the world has changed as we've known it, and we’ve been client-server for so many years that this is truly a different environment for us.”

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