National Weather Service' s, AWIPS Program Manager, Ronla Henry-Reeves discusses HCI.

Mar 08 2023
Data Center

Why Federal Agencies Are Shifting Back To Hyperconverged Infrastructure

Hyperconverged infrastructure simplifies data center management, a valuable outcome for busy IT teams.

Ronla Henry-Reeves works with the National Weather Service, but she’s not the person to ask if you’re wondering about the week ahead. Her expertise is the technology behind the scenes: a system the agency’s forecasters call AWIPS.

The Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System is a national network of high-powered computers that integrates meteorological and hydrological data with satellite and radar imagery. NWS forecasters use the technology to produce the reports and warnings they issue to the public.

Henry-Reeves, the AWIPS program manager, oversees the IT team that’s tasked with maintaining and optimizing the system. The AWIPS team members don’t predict the weather, but they keep the weather prediction machinery running smoothly.

Click on the banner for exclusive data center content when you become a Insider.

A few years ago, with an eye toward eventually shifting AWIPS workloads to the cloud, the department set out to modernize the system’s infrastructure: a computer network includes installations at nearly 170 sites across the country. Each location had a legacy dependency on six to 10 servers.

“Our first goal was to find a way to reduce that footprint,” says Henry-Reeves. “The lifecycle cost of all of those servers was a significant portion of our budget, and supporting that infrastructure had become a logistical burden.”

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act also drove the initiative. “Like other agencies, we’d been given a mandate to start consolidating our data centers,” she says.

READ MORE: Hyperconvergence helps The Labor Department gain efficiencies.

A Step Above the Rest

After reviewing bids, the NWS decided to migrate AWIPS to a hyperconverged infrastructure from Red Hat, says Henry-Reeves. With HCI, the servers and storage networks and arrays that make up a traditional data center are combined in a single, software-defined system. Many agencies turn to hyperconvergence because the virtualized architecture scales easily and brings the added benefit of simplifying IT management — a big draw for the NWS.

Because AWIPS is a high-availability system, approximately half of the servers at each site were reserved for failover, Henry-Reeves says. “If a server died, everything it was doing would go over to a paired server so the system could continue to function in a degraded mode.”

That calculus changed in August 2022 when the NWS completed the transition to HCI. The technology enabled the agency to reduce its server rooms by half, says Henry-Reeves. “Now, we only have about three at most offices, and failover is more automated with the virtual machines,” she says.

Migrating away from the legacy servers had its challenges, including a major software upgrade to Python 3.x and the typical work of hardware installation and removal. Yet, the many benefits of HCI more than outweigh those issues, says Henry-Reeves, from the environmental and financial gains associated with reduced electricity consumption to notable performance improvements in AWIPS.

In addition, IT administrators at NWS offices report that they now have more time to devote to aspects of their job unrelated to AWIPS technology.

“It’s definitely been a step up,” says Henry-Reeves. “Because it’s a more stable system overall, they’re finding they don’t have to babysit it to keep it up and running.”

DISCOVER: How flexible as-a-service approaches will help federal agencies modernize.

Trending in the Government Sphere

In pivoting to HCI, the NWS is now on the leading edge of what analysts say is a growing trend in government.

“It’s part of this much broader move that we’re seeing toward standardization, simplification and driving more efficiency and predictability,” says Sam Kapreilian, principal with Deloitte Consulting.

As organizations continue to move to the cloud, many have turned to virtualization to protect and store data, minimize downtime and consolidate data centers. HCI is attractive, Kapreilian says, because it enables virtualization while driving down costs and making life easier for IT teams with limited budgets.

“At a lot of government agencies, that’s been a massive focus, just like it’s been in other industries,” he says.

Among the agencies that preceded the NWS in adopting HCI or are now in the process of doing so:

HCI adoption has not required any change to the AWIPS interface or how NWS forecasters use the system, Henry-Reeves says. “What it has done is help us learn how virtual machines work, and it’s helped us build our expertise so we’re better prepared when we move to the cloud.”

Source:, “Top 5 Hyperconverged Infrastructure Predictions for 2021 and Beyond,” March 12, 2021

Higher Quality, Lower Cost Infrastructure

At the Department of Energy, plans for cloud adoption also played a role in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s decision to adopt an HCI solution. According to Rogelio Gamino, director of enterprise IT operations with the NNSA’s Office of Information Management, the agency moved to hyperconvergence a few years ago in part to keep up with the DOE’s broader modernization initiative.

“We consume IT services from DOE Energy Information Technology Services, and more and more, they’re getting those services from cloud-based service providers,” Gamino says.

With that in mind, NNSA’s IT leadership determined the agency should look for opportunities to make its internal operations more cloudlike as well, he says. “Eventually, we had a smaller application hosting environment that was ready for a refresh, and we decided to use that for our first HCI implementation.”

They started small “to minimize the risks if something went wrong,” says Gamino. In particular, the agency wanted to ensure that IT staff had adequate time to get up to speed on HCI, so they outsourced the implementation and planned for a period of training and transition.

As it turned out, the advantages of HCI quickly became apparent to everyone. “There’s less cost, less complexity and easier management,” Gamino says. “There’s also a snowball effect with automation because that helps reduce mistakes.”

Today, the NNSA has three HCI solutions, each tailored to meet the requirements of a mission-specific system within the agency. Gamino’s team has focused increasingly on migrating applications to the cloud, but for systems that must stay on-premises for now, the agency knows HCI is a solution it can depend on.

“From our initial investment and the success we had there, our use of HCI has grown substantially,” says Gamino. “I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”

EXAMINE: How federal agencies can learn from the FDA’s cybersecurity modernization action plan.

Photographed By Jimell Greene

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.