Nov 10 2020

A Data Center Refresh Boosts Capability for Virtualization

Air Force, DISA find that upgrades provide benefits beyond additional storage.

As aging federal data centers near their expiration dates, agencies are finding that they get far more than additional capability, storage and speed from an upgrade.

Data center upgrades can support key optimization metrics set out by the Office of Management and Budget. These include virtualization, data center availability, advanced energy metering and server utilization.

As of September 2019, many agencies still fell short in these key areas, according to a Government Accountability Office report published in March. Of the 24 participating federal agencies, 11 reported that they had met their target for virtualization, 11 said they had met their advanced metering target and 18 reported that they had met their server utilization target.

Among the agencies moving toward these goals with recent upgrades: the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa (USAFE-AFAFRICA) and the Defense Information Systems Agency.

LEARN MORE: How did the Air Force refresh its data center in Germany to keep up with modern capabilities?

Data Center Virtualization Leads to Consolidation

DISA, for instance, uses VMware as its virtualization software. The agency recently upgraded from an HPE C7000 enclosure running BL460 blade servers to HPE’s Synergy hardware.

This increased processing speed and physical memory, and allowed the agency to run 300 virtual machines, up from 80 in the previous configuration.

“It’s still in the same form factor, it’s the same size, so we can consolidate from having close to 1,000 VMware hosts to fewer than 500 hosts,” says Tony Purvis, DISA’s chief for computing ecosystem. “We can use fewer devices, thanks to this technology upgrade. That reduces the data center footprint, which reduces the power needed, which reduces the overall cost.”

The Air Force has likewise seen a range of improvements. “USAFE-AFAFRICA now has increased storage and compute power, faster data access, increased storage space, automated backups, simplified network management, and warranty and support features that were running out with the previous equipment,” says Scott Watson, European Deterrence Initiative technical solutions planner for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

Storage is a significant pain point for operators of older data centers. There may not be enough available, and it may not be easily expandable to meet an evolving mission set.

“For instance, higher-performance NVMe [Non-Volatile Memory express] storage devices are built around solid-state drives, and older infrastructure may not be able to accommodate that,” IEEE Fellow Tom Coughlin says.

Improved Performance Results from Data Center Upgrades

Storage isn’t the only issue. Data center upgrades, with enhanced networking and improved security, can deliver performance that is better by two to three orders of magnitude, Coughlin says. That high level of performance may be necessary to support current and emerging use cases.

“There is a lot more Big Data analysis, deep learning and machine learning. These often require complex calculations with large amounts of data, so being able to access and process that data quickly is important,” he says.

Data center upgrades can also enhance security, with built-in security features and improved support for updates and patches versus what legacy systems may have been receiving.

On the cost savings side, a data center refresh can also lower the energy bill. The Department of Justice, for example, has incorporated data center energy savings into its overall sustainability plan.

“There are things that can reduce power usage,” Coughlin says. “You need to look at modern ways to cool data centers and various ways to operate them with energy efficiency in mind. There are a lot of nuances.”

EXPLORE: How does virtualization help agencies shrink their environmental footprint? 

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