A major part of the IT modernization push across government is likely going to be revamping data centers.
Thanks to the FITARA Enhancement Act of 2017, federal agencies received a two-year extension until Oct. 1, 2020 to fulfill the requirements of the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI), begun in the summer of 2016 by the Obama administration. DCOI is pushing agencies to close at least 25 percent of their tiered data centers (the large data center facilities) and 60 percent of their nontiered data centers (such as server rooms) by Sept. 30, 2018.
DCOI also is designed to spur virtualization. It 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.” Shifting to composable data center infrastructure and software-defined data centers (SDDC) can help agencies achieve those goals.
Modern hybrid clouds shatter traditional data center boundaries. Workloads now flow to and from onsite facilities to public cloud infrastructure and Software as a Service (SaaS) applications. That free-form flexibility may serve the changing demands of the agency, but it also forces CIOs to cope with growing IT complexity and new security considerations. Without a new approach to data center management, government IT leaders risk paying a higher price for their newfound agility, in the form of unnecessary costs and additional burdens on already strained IT teams.
For many agencies, composable infrastructure and software-defined data centers offer a better solution. These closely related strategies layer a software-based management console on top of virtualized computing, networking and storage to create one large, agile pool of IT resources. Think about composable infrastructure as treating each element and IT resource as a service, composing them in real time to meet demand.
“People can just say, ‘Give me a cluster of 15 servers with 30 cores and provision that into a virtual private cloud,’” says Dan Conde, senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. “The virtual network overlay then ties everything together.”
Feds are already adopting SDDCs. A Dell EMC survey of federal IT decision-makers and business decision-makers released last year found that early two-thirds of survey respondents (64 percent) say their organization has deployed software-defined solutions, while 85 percent reported progress adopting SDDCs.
SDDCs Allow Agencies to Focus IT Resources on the Mission
Some consider composable infrastructure to be “infrastructure as code.” No matter how it’s defined, composable infrastructure and SDDCs accelerate the spinning up of services. IT managers can better focus budgets and staff on activities that directly benefit the agency’s mission, rather than ongoing maintenance and management of IT systems.
That payoff applies to many types of traditional workloads, including those associated with ERP and database applications, but they’re particularly important for use cases that benefit from on-demand provisioning, such as DevOps. Teams can quickly provision the necessary resources for development and testing, and return computing, storage and networking services to the master resource pool when they’re no longer needed.
“With a sea of dynamic IT resources, organizations can carve out ERP and DevOps workloads from the same infrastructure, rather than creating pockets built for specific applications,” says Chad Dunn, vice president of product management at Dell EMC. “That enables teams to customize operations more quickly, while also providing for greater data protection.”
This modern approach also plays an important role in ongoing data center simplification and transformation by allowing IT managers to shrink hardware footprints and avoid overbuying of devices and software licenses to accommodate unexpected spikes in demand.
“Composable infrastructures are an answer to the over-provisioning that is common in traditional data centers,” says Neil MacDonald, vice president and general manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). “Having pools of compute, storage and networking fabric to serve multiple needs means administrators can make sizing decisions centrally as opposed to guessing how much infrastructure they may need for each application group.”
Feds Can Choose from a Range of SDDC Options
HPE is one of a handful of vendors offering platforms for creating composable infrastructures. HPE Synergy combines computing, storage and networking capabilities via a single, unified API.
“The unified API is key because it becomes a productivity multiplier,” MacDonald says. “Many organizations have attempted to automate the underlying infrastructure through the years, but the complexity of managing diverse device interfaces quickly swamped those efforts.” A unified API addresses that complexity, so agencies see the benefits of automation, he adds.
To speed resource implementation and ongoing management, HPE Synergy offers templates for defining requirements and deploying resources programmatically, as well as for making changes and updates.
“HPE Synergy views those lifecycle tasks and the provisioning of the physical infrastructure as an extension of code,” MacDonald explains.
Dell EMC’s VxRack System SDDC integrates VMware Cloud Foundation software for hyperconverged platforms with Dell EMC’s PowerEdge servers. The company’s VxRail option offers similar SDDC capabilities in a preconfigured appliance. VMware, a subsidiary of Dell Technologies, also sells VMware NSX, a virtualization and security platform for creating SDDCs.
“SDDC brings the same flexibility, configurability and agility seen in public clouds to their on-premises data centers,” Dunn says. “That’s important when resources need to remain in-house for reasons of cost, compliance and security.”
Decide Whether the SDDC Model Is Right for Your Agency
While composable infrastructures and SDDCs offer many potential benefits, analysts and vendors say agency IT managers need upfront preparation to fully capitalize on them. First, CIOs should undertake an honest assessment of whether their IT culture is ready to transform to a software-defined operating model, where separate teams of specialists will no longer oversee servers, networks and storage. Instead, virtual infrastructure administrators will manage all those areas, using their skills to automate IT environments. In some cases, an enterprise may decide to retain current staff, or may hire new talent for the role.
Second, tailor long-term roadmaps for ongoing efficiency as the IT infrastructure evolves over time.
“Enterprises will continue to encounter a range of different workloads with different requirements in the years ahead,” MacDonald says. “And that means a diversity of options for how to deploy them. The more flexible data centers become thanks to composable infrastructures, the more they will deliver valuable services moving forward.”
Learn more about how your agency can take advantage of SDDC solutions to optimize your data center environments.