GovLoop’s hosting its Fifth Annual Government Innovators Virtual Summit, an all-day, virtual event with five different online trainings, networking opportunities and resources to help government do their job better — and we’re recapping each session for you. Head here to read write-ups from the other trainings.
Federal agencies are under great pressure to optimize infrastructure to better support mission performance and resilience. To do that, the engines that power information processing – the federal data centers – need to leverage innovation to achieve speed, increase security, density and reduce power consumption.
However, that’s not easy. The good news is that by understanding a few best practices and important steps current agencies are taking to modernize their data centers, you can learn to overcome the pitfalls and common challenges that hold agencies back from realizing the potential of their data centers.
In today’s GovLoop Virtual Summit training, What the Future of the Federal Data Center Looks Like, panelists discussed the current state of government data centers and why security and speed are at the top of the priority list. Nick Psaki, Principal Engineer for Pure Storage Federal, joined GovLoop Technology Writer Nicole Blake Johnson on the panel.
So what do data centers look like in the federal government?
The federal government’s multi-year efforts to consolidate thousands of data centers got a much-needed boost in December 2014, with the passage of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, also known as FITARA.
The law, among other things, requires agencies to develop a data center inventory, a strategy for consolidating and optimizing data centers and quarterly updates on their progress to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. OMB is required to develop a cost-savings goal for data center consolidation.
According to a March report by the Government Accountability Office, the federal government has more than 10,500 data centers, and about half are planned for closure. So far, more than 3,000 data centers have been closed, leaving about 2,000 data centers planned for closure through fiscal year 2019.
Under FITARA, the goal is not just closing data centers but also optimizing existing facilities to ensure they are fully utilized. OMB is now using more granular metrics to track data center optimization, such as the percent of energy metering across data centers, the portion of total data center energy used to power infrastructure (or Power usage effectiveness) and the portion of operating systems that are fully virtualized. (you can find more details about these metrics at datacenters.cio.gov)
As agencies look to reduce their data center inventory and, where possible, get out of the data center business, they are also looking to cloud computing. There has been an uptick in government adoption of secure cloud solutions, thanks in part to the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP, a government-wide program that provides a standard baseline for securing cloud products and services.
Congress is also working to make agencies’ transition to the cloud a smooth process. Lawmakers are crafting a bill, the Cloud Infrastructure Transition Act, that would help to streamline and accelerate the FedRAMP process and establish a fund to help federal agencies transition to cloud computing services
However, not everyone in government or industry has kept pace with these changing requirements.
“Just over one in 10 federal IT managers believe their agency’s data centers are fully equipped to meet all of the demands placed on them by today’s missions,” said Psaki. “What’s worse, feds are spending nearly 73 cents of every IT dollar invested to maintain these legacy systems.”
Something’s got to give. And it’s a situation that will only get worse.
Looking ahead to 2021, less than 5% of feds believe their agency currently has the security, speed and capacity they’ll need in 2021. Additionally, 88% believe they’ll need to reduce power consumption by 2021 and 82% say their data center footprint needs to shrink.
“In essence in the current environment they are failing today and will be forlorn tomorrow. This isn’t a sustainable system,” said Psaki.
In order to address the problem, some agencies have considered moving to the cloud, but Psaki warns the cloud offers some major concerns, “despite President Obama’s 2016 budget increasing cloud spending by only 2.3%, Feds suggest nearly doubling the number of systems in the cloud over the next five years. One of the reasons for the slow adoption is because agencies are resistant to give up control like you have to when you move to the cloud. A few months back one of the largest government cloud providers Amazon Web Services had a critical outage. Systems went down. Amazon’s CEO didn’t get fired, but many federal CIOs did because our systems can not go down.”
The Need for Flash Storage
A safer option would be flash storage in data centers. Flash storage offers some compelling cost advantages in terms of efficiency right off the bat.
The reason flash storage works so well is because it focuses on security first. And even better flash storage has reached the inflection point where the technology is more affordable than ever while still providing robust security and speed.
“The data center opportunity before us is amazing,” said Psaki. “If agencies successfully address the five pillars of the data center, the Federal estimate they could save 10 billion annually.”
The majority of CIOs say their agency would save at least 20 percent of their annual IT budget. “You end up with a significantly more efficient enterprise,” said Psaki. “This transformation is just illustrative of changing the different media in your infrastructure.”
As we mentioned before, security is the biggest driver for agencies looking to invest in data center solutions. “97% of CIOs say they need to improve their security by 2021 – one of the benefits of our platform is they are all FIPS 140-2 certified, FISMA and FedRAMP.”
The truth of the matter is, all major vendors are focusing on flash storage over the spinning disk, noted Psaki. The reason for the focus on flash is agencies can update, expand, or upgrade their storage without disruption. These disruptions have historically been a huge problem. “Typically storage companies want us to buy new gear, rather than sustain what we got. Fundamentally changing that convo helps keep down costs and IT budgets and helps keep the infrastructure agile, which helps it reliably maintain services,” said Psaki.