ATF Embraces Storage-as-a-Service and Strengthens Data Control and Governance

The ATF National Response Team works an investigation in an undisclosed area. (Photo: atf.gov)

The new administration has left little doubt that consolidation is a top priority. The first budget calls for deep cuts across most agencies. If achieved, these reductions are likely to put the squeeze on already stressed IT budgets. The search for creative solutions can and must intensify.

Approximately 30 percent of data center costs are tied up in storage, making it a rich target for consolidation and optimization. Storage-as-a-Service is gaining momentum, but concerns about data ownership and governance linger, especially when it comes to sensitive and classified information.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is pursuing a hybrid cloud model that will simultaneously address optimization, security and budget priorities—blazing a trail for other Federal agencies to follow. ATF’s approach enables it to leverage the compute power and efficiency of a public cloud, while maintaining ownership and control of its data through Private Cloud Storage-as-a-Service and, importantly, avoiding creation of a stovepiped environment in the cloud.

Time to Move

Already focused on data center optimization, ATF had consolidated its two centers to one. ATF looks to close the remaining facility, and it recently took an important step on that journey as disparate storage solutions neared end-of-life and capacity limits.

“As part of our strategy, we want to consume all infrastructure components for storage, such as monitoring, management, maintenance and technical refresh, as a service moving from CapEx to OpEx,” said Walter Bigelow, chief of ATF’s IT Systems Management Division. “But, we have to retain control of our data due to law enforcement requirements.”

With 7,500 employees in 280 offices across the country, ATF produces terabytes of data annually, including sensitive law enforcement and evidentiary information. To effectively and efficiently manage this data, ATF needed a FedRAMP-authorized solution with disaster recovery capabilities. Additionally, ATF must know exactly where its data resides due to security concerns surrounding a public cloud shared storage platform.

Best of Both Worlds

Working with NetApp and 1901 Group, ATF is implementing a unique, hybrid cloud strategy that aligns with Cloud First, FedRAMP, and recent modernization mandates, while ensuring stringent data control and governance and sidestepping the creation of new siloes in the cloud.

ATF migrated to a private Storage-as-a-Service infrastructure, which was provisioned in conjunction with an integrated tool suite. Through the solution, ATF stored its data in a dedicated, FedRAMP-authorized private cloud, and consumes managed services for disaster recovery and cloud, billed on a per terabyte basis.

The as-a-service delivery model helped ATF avoid capital expenses and alleviated budgetary constraints. ATF secured all necessary components of this solution without needing to invest capital in infrastructure that will eventually need to be replaced. In addition, with a dedicated private storage cloud, ATF maintains data control and governance.

“[With this model] there’s no question who owns the data,” said Bigelow. “It is ATF managed. It’s ATF controlled under an ATF contract. The hardware has only ATF data on it and is in a secure physical location that only ATF cleared resources have access to.”

The new hybrid model also enables ATF to rapidly call up data from the private cloud storage while running an application. “[With the solution] we’ll have less than five-millisecond access between that NetApp storage and the [program] running in the cloud,” Bigelow said. This capability gives ATF the ability to also explore new cloud-based applications that can use the stored data.

ATF’s primary site dedicated private cloud resides in 1901 Group’s western region data center and will eventually be replicated to a dedicated private cloud in 1901 Group’s eastern region data center. The redundancy in geographically diverse locations gives ATF the disaster recovery capabilities it requires.

With 24/7 managed service capabilities provided by 1901 Group, ATF ensures its data is properly monitored and managed. In the past, ATF found it difficult to manage its data consistently. ATF’s data was also growing exponentially. Using private storage in a hybrid cloud environment, it has greater control over how it manages the life cycle of its more than 800 terabytes of data and counting—ensuring high availability for data that it uses regularly and cost-effective storage for older and less frequently accessed information.

ATF also improved its agility and its mission effectiveness, since it has the capability to scale its storage up or down as needed.

“[With this solution, we have the capability] to almost instantaneously stand up a public facing website that can ingest any multimedia data, in any form, in any way, and be able to sort through it and run that through a set of photo and or video algorithms to find key information,” Bigelow said.

In the case of an event, such as a terror incident, that requires ATF to collect massive amounts of data, it can now quickly spin up public cloud compute resources necessary to accommodate the incoming system requests and increase the amount of storage on its private servers.

A Work in Progress

As ATF’s mission continues to expand, so do its data storage and infrastructure requirements. The agency knew that cloud must factor into the solution, but needed to address unique data control and governance requirements. An innovative hybrid cloud solution, with NetApp Private Storage, as well as1901 Group Storage as a Service and managed services at its core, is helping ATF to move forth confidently—ensuring the data control and security, scale and cost-effectiveness that its mission and fiscal realities mandate. It’s also building a powerful launching pad for future ventures in the cloud.

 

 

One Comment
  1. Anonymous | - Reply
    Glad to see that the ATF is moving down this path. However, that model is not new. We have been doing storage-as-a-service with this type of contracting and systems model at Oak Ridge National Lab for over four years (with two different vendors), and last year we broadened it beyond just storage by applying that same model to our converged infrastructure for our core data center operations as well. Its a great model that all IT shops need to explore. --Mike Bartell, CIO

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