Feds Search for Efficiency

By Bob Violino Print this article Print

Government agencies turn to virtualization, cloud services and other IT initiatives to run more cost-effective operations.

Federal government agencies are under constant pressure to keep costs down and run processes more efficiently, so many are deploying IT initiatives to help deliver cost-effective operations that are sure to please taxpayers.

“The federal government is challenged by significant budget constraints that will necessarily impact the role of IT in almost every agency,” says Andrea Di Maio, vice president and distinguished analyst at research firm Gartner, who covers IT in the government.

“This is similar to what happened in some of the states, such as Florida and California, after 2008, and to what is likely to happen, albeit with greater severity, in Europe as a consequence of the situation with sovereign debts,” he says. “IT will have to demonstrably contribute to increasing productivity and to ensuring the sustainability of government services and operations.”

At the same time, Di Maio adds, IT needs to remain affordable, so cost optimization will be essential. This can be achieved through better acquisition and delivery models, as well as tighter project and risk management.

“This is a very different scenario than the ones we have seen in the past, where the focus was either on reducing IT costs or investing in IT to reduce business costs,” he says. “The future is about doing both at the same time.”

EPA’s Virtualization Efforts

Some federal agencies, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have launched virtualization efforts to improve IT efficiency. The EPA is a physically decentralized organization with 25 major facilities, including its headquarters in the Washington, D.C., area, 10 regional offices and 13 major research centers.

The agency operates 78 data centers and server rooms located in 66 buildings across 48 cities in 31 states and territories. Since 2007, the EPA has taken a series of “optimization initiatives” to consolidate data centers, use industry best-management practices and deploy virtualization across its IT infrastructure.

“Virtualization is a key component of the EPA’s effort to reduce total server count by almost 50 percent,” says David Updike, acting director of the EPA’s National Computer Center. “Virtualization provides the foundation for resource sharing and consolidation within server rooms and across data centers.”

In 2009, the EPA began migrating its x86-64 servers to virtualized platforms, including VMware, Dell servers and a variety of storage platforms, such as HP 3PAR, EMC and EqualLogic. “These virtualization efforts are paired with infrastructure-refresh efforts so they can be financed within existing operating budgets to maximize return on investment,” Updike says.

The EPA has achieved substantial gains in virtualization. Nine percent of its physical servers are virtual machine hosts, and 32 percent of its servers are virtual machines. By 2015, the agency plans to increase virtual hosts to 30 percent of physical machines, with 60 percent of its servers operating as virtual machines.

Another key element of the consolidation effort is network optimization, because bandwidth is a critical risk factor for server migration, Updike says. The agency’s network optimization project involved moving its WAN and Internet access services—provided via a U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) contract with Networx—to Networx’s commercial cloud services. The EPA completed the initial transition in March 2011, and it continues to expand the use of cloud services provided under the contract.

This article was originally published on 2012-02-23
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