Data centers have been one of the fastest growing areas of the federal government in the last decade. In 1998 there were only 432 data centers, but by 2010 there were more than 2000. While there’s no question that there’s a critical need for data centers, there are definitely valid concerns about whether or not these data centers are being used most efficiently. A recent GAO report identified three areas of concern: “…the provision of redundant capabilities, the underutilization of resources, and the significant consumption of energy.”
Agencies have worked to address some of these concerns through the Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI). But much work still needs to be done to ensure that all data centers, including next-generation data centers, are operating at optimum conditions both for their present tasks and future assignments.
Despite these concerns, Brocade’s Doug Brown is confident about the federal government’s data center strategy.
From his perspective as a data center specialist for Brocade’s Federal team supporting defense agencies and COCOMs, he says data centers continue to make great strides toward becoming more efficient and cost-effective, but there are a number of best practices that still must be addressed on an ongoing basis.
Based on his experience with federal agencies, many have already taken steps toward supporting storage and server virtualization, but they need to get ready for network virtualization, which is “the next big wave.”
End-to-end network virtualization leveraging fabric technology as the foundation will help to simplify the architecture of existing networks, reduce hierarchical layers, and increase utilization. Such an approach, he adds, will better facilitate the scaling and management of fabric-based data and storage networks. The result is the ability to handle higher density systems, more “east-west traffic” within the data center, new storage technologies, and more server virtualization designed for additional resiliency and networks aimed at handling multiple tasks. “At the end of the day, the ability to access applications from anywhere at anytime through a virtual desktop environment or mobile device remains paramount,” says Brown.
Data centers must also be flexible in terms of deploying new applications in order to gain the best efficiencies while mitigating over provisioning or wasted space. The use of new network overlay protocols, for instance, allow organizations to scale data centers more elegantly and take better advantage of physical “pods” of computing equipment within a data center floor plan. These protocols will help to enhance and address the scalability constraints of VLANs in today’s data center and allow for applications to be deployed anywhere in the data center that has optimal resources.
Brown also highlighted the need for:
- Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) plans for data centers and the importance of the right networking infrastructure to facilitate communication between data centers to facilitate active-active system capabilities while keeping costs under control.
- Clear dashboard reporting and analytics to enable an organization to highlight how well a system is working and to proactively identify potential issues and root causes before they impact performance and ultimately the end-user experience.
- Power and cooling enhancements in order to meet carbon footprint and cost savings goals. Structured cabling, for instance, plays a role in achieving these goals and is a must for supporting the advancement of data center technology. Agencies need only look to the U.S. General Services Administration, (GSA) and their goal to reduce power usage through intelligent management of data centers.
With renewed focus on cost reductions and streamlined operating budgets in the federal government, agencies must be prepared to evolve their networks by optimizing existing infrastructure and combining them with new technologies, rather than simply ripping and replacing equipment and software. Brown adds, “being open to new trends and changes can help to ease the pain for many. But anyone who is evolving their data center must be prepared to do more with the same or even fewer resources.”