In April, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report to Congress on the current status of the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) — the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) directive to optimize and consolidate data centers to deliver better services to the public while increasing return on investment (ROI) to taxpayers. According to the report, in August 2018, out of a total of 12,166 agency-owned data centers, the government had closed 6,250 of them and planned to close 1,200 additional ones.
This accounted for a total of $2.36 billion in planned savings from fiscal years 2016 through 2018, which is about $370 million less than OMB’s goal for overall DCOI savings. In the midst of these consolidation efforts, agencies are also attempting to adhere to the administration’s Cloud Smart policy as well as increase the adoption of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and the IoT. This progress underscores the federal government’s added layers of complexity and ongoing optimization efforts — and demands — when considering a strategy for data and information storage and processing requirements.
Colocation Is Gaining Steam
Some of the consolidation within government environments has come in the area of colocation. In fact, the most recent update to the DCOI policy, issued in June, indicates that any agency looking to develop a new agency-owned data center or significantly expand an existing one must “submit a written justification that includes an analysis of alternatives, including opportunities for cloud services, shared services, and third-party colocation.” So, why are colocation options being encouraged by the OMB? From an industry point of view, there are at least three significant benefits a colocation engagement offers to agencies.
Reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) — Agencies can typically reduce data center TCO by 30% or more when compared to in-house solutions. This helps agencies maximize budgets and better address DCOI requirements. These savings can be dramatically increased if an agency runs a data center that is seven years old or older.
Equivalent security/enhanced posture — Colocated data centers protect customer assets with multiple layers of physical security, some adhering to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) 800-53 High Impact levels or Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) High security controls while balancing multiple tenants, which require equivalent security with an arguably higher security posture.
Increased operational efficiencies — Colocation takes the burden off in-house operations and management teams and shifts those efforts to a third party. From a cost perspective, this also significantly reduces the varied nature of capital expenditures for the agency, shifting to a steady operational cost.
With all that said, government agencies should be strategic in the selection of — and migration to — a colocation facility.
Factors to Consider
It doesn’t matter if an agency is looking to colocate a single cabinet or a wholesale data center campus, it must take into consideration several factors before making the move. This starts by looking to a partner and facility that has a proven track record of successfully supporting the unique requirements of the government market. As noted above, the government requires layers of support and compliance that cannot be met by just any colocation facility.
With this validation should come operational efficiency and flexibility for the agency. Resource-constrained agencies simply do not have the personnel to properly maintain agency-owned data centers, especially over longer periods of time, so being able to leverage a colocation facility’s experienced, dedicated, on-site operations team as a service is key. These colocation facilities should also provide on-demand, 24-hour service, ensuring higher reliability than most agency-run locations.
Another key consideration is the security requirements. Different levels of information require different levels of security. For example, do the facilities have federal-grade security? Do they meet FISMA High? Does the provider have any experience with Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs)? Are there options for the storage of classified information?
Finally, does the provider have any kind of long-term commitment to maintain aggressive energy efficiency, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Better Buildings Initiative? Increased energy efficiency is an added value to the decreased government data center footprint, as a large percentage of closed/consolidated data centers were outdated and underutilized, leading to significant amounts of energy waste and higher costs. By using a facility that aligns with a program like the Better Buildings Initiative, agencies not only help the environment but also save money. Such a facility typically means that the organization has committed publicly to reducing energy intensity (in the case of DOE’s Better Buildings, by 20% over a 10-year period), resulting in a significant reduction in the carbon footprint.
Once an agency determines that colocation is the best path forward, it needs to consider the migration process. In doing so, agencies should follow these 10 steps to ensure success.
Develop a migration business case — Determine key performance indicators (KPIs), budget numbers, risk tolerance, and current data center environments.
Define strategy/goals — Determine what a successful migration looks like and set benchmarks to measure success.
Assess the environment — Take into consideration the existing agency and new colocation environment to gain a full view of all dependencies.
Transfer knowledge — An agency knows more about its environment than anybody else, so ensure that knowledge is shared with the colocation partner.
Design and build — Provide engineering and design requirements along with documentation of all existing and proposed data center environments.
Review logistics — Review deliverables and provide feedback on roles/responsibilities, timelines, and other details.
Map resources — Identify financial and human resource requirements to execute on the proposed logistics.
Develop testing procedures — Communicate any/all existing testing programs and procedures and their effectiveness, and provide vision for new testing procedure options.
Make the move — During migration, help with communication and accountability.
Post-migration test and analysis — Recommit to the deliverables outlined in steps 5 and 8, and review dashboards and deliverables to ensure alignment with expectations.
Migrate With Success
Government agencies are primed to take advantage of all the benefits afforded by a colocation engagement. For a successful migration, agencies need partners that will work with them along the journey to analyze, plan, design, and execute the key components of the migration. This includes remaining in close communication every step of the way to ensure the agency infrastructure has been safely and securely moved to the colocation facility. It is at this point where an agency can start reaping the cost, security, and efficiency benefits. that colocation provides.