How to help customers move from data center consolidation to optimization

As new data center requirements move forward, government contractors can seize the opportunity to help customers move from consolidation to optimization.

In December 2014, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) became law.

The law enumerated a number of new powers, and associated accountability, for federal CIOs, giving them increased influence on the buying power and IT policy of their respective agencies.

In August, agencies submitted plans for complying with the new legislation which also contained a placeholder update to the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.

Quarterly updates by agencies remain a requirement and a subsequent phase of the initiative “will refresh and refocus the data center optimization strategy on the efficient and effective use of resources;" however, specific guidance on federal data centers is not due in from the Office of Management and Budget until the end of fiscal 2015.

Agencies have already made significant progress on data center consolidation (as is to be expected and applauded), but at least some of this progress was the result of agencies targeting the so-called low-hanging fruit. Now the focus has shifted to the more complex goal of optimization.

As suggested by the PortfolioStat Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) collected and reported by the Energy Department, there is new and recurring attention on achieving higher facility and storage utilization, in addition to increased virtualization.

Tracking these KPIs also indicates significant and measurable opportunities for improvement around power, heating and cooling management within data centers.

Industry has already developed many best practices in this arena, so what should agencies expect from industry in support of this next phase of data center consolidation?

Green IT that actually saves money

The cost savings associated with outsourced or off-premise data centers – or colocation – are well understood. 

Rather than stressing over how to appropriate limited budgets and personnel resources to manage standalone, brick-and-mortar data centers, agencies should look at best practices, such as the original recommendation in the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative to “lease colocation services from a commercial data center provider.”

Data center optimization strategies are governed by a number of federal drivers.

One of the more recent drivers is the President’s Executive Order 13693, “Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade,” which calls for a power usage effectiveness (PUE – an industry standard mechanism for quantifying the energy efficiency of a data center) of between 1.2 and 1.4 for new data centers and of less than 1.5 for existing data centers (keep in mind the theoretical lower limit for this metric is 1.0). To put that into perspective, PortfolioStat explains that government-wide performance in early 2015 was 1.9.

While these are aggressive forward-looking policy measures, modernized, purpose-built hosting facilities are already in position and are being built to meet the power usage effectiveness metrics established in the executive order – a likely predecessor for the metrics that could be contained in the next incarnation of the data center consolidation initiative.

Substantial changes are required to a physical building in order to legitimately (i.e., utilizing waste heat from the data center to heat the next building does not legitimately lower PUE) achieve PUEs in this range.

Subsequently, following the original guidance regarding the use of colocation providers, now optimized for PUE, should remain valid going into the next generation of FDCCI as it will greatly reduce the cost concerns that agencies would have to contend with to meet the new metrics on their own, and actually save operational expenses associated with today’s power-hungry data center.

No compromises on security

On the heels of one of the most publicized losses of federal information, and as agencies consider physical sites for colocating agency data centers, industry partners capable of offering secure, compliant facilities that adhere to standards such as those defined in the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) are key.

The FISMA Moderate rating should be viewed as a minimum threshold, while FISMA High is preferred (or required for Defense programs). Additionally, if an agency plans to obtain their own FedRAMP certification, the physical security controls afforded by FISMA will be an underlying requirement.

Anytime, anywhere access to data center performance metrics

An optimal colocation partner will not only meet all required federal mandates, but will provide agencies with the remote capability to track of all their IT assets, even those under the provider’s control.

Access to reports and real-time information on critical systems are vital capabilities for agencies.

These tools enable resource planning from an informed position – necessary for optimizing data center power consumption, achieving ongoing visibility into environmental conditions and realizing the benefits of advanced metering. In fact, EO 13693 requires the adoption of advanced energy meters by FY18.

This type of detailed reporting and insight into critical asset and environmental usage trends gives agencies information to verify and track the moving goal of data center optimization, and even to eliminate or delay the need for costly facility expansion. 

The next iteration of FDCCI guidance from FITARA represents a great opportunity for agencies to achieve the promise of this ground breaking legislation. And a similar opportunity exists for industry partners to find new ways to innovate around energy efficiency and remote data center management, without sacrificing security.

In fact, some industry partners are already prepared to meet the rising number of energy-conscious requirements with a focus on verifiable cost savings.

Without knowing the details of what’s in store for the future of FDCCI, secure colocation, that is both operationally transparent and PUE-aware, offers agencies a promising opportunity to successfully transition from consolidation to optimization.