Oct 28 2016
Data Center

Feds See Cloud, Virtualization and Modular Designs as the Way Forward on Data Center Optimization

Moving to the cloud and embracing modular data centers will be key components of agencies’ modernization efforts, according to officials from the Justice and State departments.

Federal data centers are going to be in a state of flux over the next few years, as agencies work to meet new requirements designed to boost energy efficiency and encourage virtualization. Embracing virtualization and the cloud as well as modular data centers will help them meet goals for removing physical servers, saving space and shuttering redundant sites, officials said.

As agencies strive to meet the goals of the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI), officials said, they are looking to squeeze efficiencies out of every aspect of their data center operations — computing, storage, networking and energy usage. Officials from the Justice and State departments, as well as several industry vendors, spoke at MeriTalk’s “Accelerating Data Center Transformation” event on Oct. 27 in Washington, D.C.

The discussion took place in the context of how agencies are implementing the DCOI, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officially unveiled on Aug. 1, and which supersedes the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative that began in 2010. The DCOI lays out several metrics agencies need to meet for “tiered” data centers (or large data center facilities):

  • Install energy-metering tools in all tiered data centers to measure power consumption
  • Maintain a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) score of less than 1.5, but preferably less than 1.2
  • House at least four virtual servers per physical server
  • Use at least 80 percent of a tiered data center’s floor space
  • Achieve a server utilization rate of at least 65 percent

By Sept. 30, 2018, agencies are required to close at least 25 percent of their tiered data centers and 60 percent of their nontiered data centers (such as server rooms). OMB estimates 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.

Embracing the Cloud

The Justice Department submitted its strategic plan for complying with DCOI at the end of September, said Mark Busby, program manager for the department’s data center transformation.

The Justice Department is focused on optimizing computing in its existing data centers and aims to lower its PUE metrics from around 2.1 to 1.5, Busby said. The department also is trying to make changes across its entire footprint. “Standardization in data centers is just as important as picking a cloud service provider,” he said.

Yet Busby said that Justice is aiming to put more of its data in the cloud and virtualize its architecture. “The less I get to put in a physical data center, the better,” he said. And the more the department can put its low- and moderate-security data in the cloud the less it has to worry about its data center capacity, he said.

“Let’s get out of the business of owning hardware wherever we can,” Busby said.

DCOI is a “great first step,” Busby said, but more work needs to be done to tweak the goals outlined in the policy, he said.

The Benefits of a Modular Data Center

Another key element of the DCOI is to use data center space more efficiently and to shutter redundant data centers. Agencies are likely going to take advantage of modular data center architecture — portable data centers, often in the former of trailers and containers, that can be placed wherever capacity is needed — to achieve those goals. Such data centers often save enormous amounts of retail space.

On a separate panel at the event, Melonie Parker-Hill, division chief of the Enterprise Operations Center at the State Department, noted that two years ago the agency received a mandate to move from a leased to a government-owned facility. The State Department is now in the process or transitioning out of an 11,000-square-foot data center to a high-density, 800-square-foot modular data center.

“Not only are we reducing our footprint,” Parker-Hill said, but the modular architecture lets the department “gain other green achievements.”

The State Department is looking to invest in two more modular data centers. Such deployments reduce costs and bring large energy and environmental savings, Parker-Hill said. Additionally, unlike in a large facility, the servers and other IT infrastructure are not sharing power and cooling infrastructure with employees on the other side of a wall, who have totally different usage needs, she said.

Parker-Hill said that using modular data centers in the context of DCOI will help agencies meet energy efficiency and virtualization goals because they cut out so much hardware. “It will help catapult some of the agencies that may be struggling in some of those areas” to meet the DCOI requirements, she said.

Modular data centers are also highly scalable to meet agencies’ capacity needs, Parker-Hill said. “We use what we need,” she said.

Another advantage is that modular data centers are much easier to deploy than traditional facilities. Parker-Hill said that the department can deploy one in six to eight weeks once it has been ordered.


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