For most agencies, a data center is an operation that supports a core function, but it’s not part of the agency’s core mission. In fact, some agencies might prefer not to run a data center at all.
“Most CIOs and IT executives are trying to figure out how to get out of the data center business,” says Bill Weaver, CDW vice president for advanced technologies, explaining that IT leaders are wary of the large capital expenditures they must make to build and maintain data centers, as well as the lack of agility that can come with running a large IT infrastructure.
This is especially true in the federal IT environment, where agencies have been trying to shutter and consolidate data centers with varying degrees of success.
Push to Shutter Federal Data Centers
The Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI), begun by the Obama administration in the summer of 2016, will push agencies 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) by Sept. 30, 2018.
The 24 agencies participating in the DCOI have made progress on their data center closure efforts. As of August 2016, the agencies collectively had identified a total of 9,995 data centers; they reported closing 4,388, with plans to close a total of 5,597 through fiscal year 2019, according to a Government Accountability Office report. However, just four departments — the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior and Treasury — accounted for 84 percent of the completed closures.
Many agencies will not meet data center closure goals, said Dave Powner, the GAO’s director of IT issues, as reported earlier this year by FedTech. He advocated for Congress to extend the deadlines by two years and then assess agencies’ progress.
That would be 10 years into the data center optimization push, Powner noted. “If agencies really can’t optimize these data centers by 2020, 10 years into it, should they be in the business of owning and operating data centers?” Powner asked. “It’s a fundamental question. Maybe they shouldn’t be, and let someone else do it for them.”
Shuttering data centers saves money, an important task for agencies that must contend with shrinking budgets. It also helps facilitate a shift to the cloud, as applications and storage become virtualized.
But for now, most agencies are unwilling to move all of their data and workloads to the cloud. Rather, many are deploying a hybrid strategy that combines cloud services with on-premises IT. This approach is growing rapidly in popularity, and Gartner predicts that by 2020, 90 percent of organizations will adopt hybrid infrastructure.
The challenge for IT teams is to deliver the elasticity, nimbleness and scalability that can help agencies quickly take advantage of opportunities that arise, says Moe Khan, former director of Dell Customer Solution Centers. For data and workloads that remain in-house, agencies are modernizing their infrastructures to support advanced capabilities and drive innovation.
Agencies Face Growing IT Challenges
CIOs have a much tougher job today than they did 10 years ago, says Gerry Seaman, director for hybrid cloud at Intel. They must deal with mobile technologies that change the size and nature of their IT environments, as well as security threats that have grown into organized, well-funded enterprises poised to take advantage of any mistake an agency makes.
Further, agencies face compliance regulations under the Federal Information Security Management Act and Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act.
Amid these challenges, IT leaders must find ways to leverage technology to fulfill their missions, most often in an environment that demands improved capabilities without offering more resources, such as funding or staffing. “It has really made that job much more strategic,” Seaman says.
The Simplicity of the Cloud Offers Agencies Another Option
As data center technology advances, IT leaders strive to keep things simple. “One of the key things that we see our customers do is reduce complexity in their IT environments,” Khan says.
Binny Gill, chief architect of Nutanix, agrees. “Complex is competent,” he says. “Simple is genius.”
The cloud offers a way for agency IT leaders to simplify operations. Deploying Infrastructure as a Service can help agencies offload the burden placed on IT staff, scale up or down quickly to meet changing demands and streamline budgeting while ensuring that the technology remains up to date.
Khan says the CIOs he meets with often wonder what workloads they can move to the cloud, but at the same time, they want to maintain some infrastructure on-premises. A hybrid approach to IT architecture could help with this.
Some workloads are a good fit for the public cloud or an off-premises environment. For many agencies, the challenge is determining where to move specific workloads to optimize performance and efficiency.
Gill describes the next phase in data centers as a state of “cloud autonomy,” which will allow agencies to move easily between clouds, whether they are public clouds, private clouds run by a service provider or an on-premises data center.
Vendors such as Nutanix are developing solutions that will deliver this capability, providing one-click management for moving workloads within a hybrid cloud environment.
For more on data center solutions, visit CDWG.com/datacenter.