HCI – The Key to Unlocking Data Center Modernization?

The most recent FITARA scorecard – Scorecard 6.0 – is in, and the results aren’t pretty. Since the last scorecard in November 2017, 11 agencies’ grades have declined while only six showed improvement. The Department of Defense received its third straight “F,” while eight other agencies were perilously close to failing, with “D” grades.

But it’s not all bad news, as nine of the 24 rated agencies received either an “A” or a “B” on the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) portion of the scorecard, which examines agencies’ progress against savings goals, as well as performance in five areas: energy metering, power usage effectiveness, virtualization, server utilization/automation, and facility utilization. There were five “F’s”, but that’s a big step forward from the first scorecard, released in November 2015, when 15 agencies received failing grades.

How can agencies continue to progress? It’s a complex challenge, as they must find a way to bridge the gap between today’s aging, multi-component infrastructures and tomorrow’s modern future. Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) might provide a key.

Hyper-Speed to Hyper-Converged

HCI integrates compute, storage, networking, and virtualization technologies – helping agencies move away from siloed systems toward more consolidated, modern, and secure data center infrastructures. Not only does this approach allow agencies to achieve a smaller data center footprint, it also consolidates IT management to a single pane of glass, eliminating the need to manage multiple components within the data center. This is a key benefit in a market with an aging workforce and stiff competition with the private sector for the best IT talent.

HCI also provides true flexibility/scalability to expand only when needed (rather than requiring heavy investments in hardware that will go unused in the beginning of the project) enabling agencies to move from a reactive to a proactive stance by creating an environment with more repeatable and predictable outcomes.

Additionally, HCI adoption could accelerate other modernization efforts – such as automation, advanced analytics, and more – making it possible for federal agencies to truly transform their data centers, resulting in improved security, greater efficiency, and more opportunity for innovation.

For the first time, FITARA Scorecard 6.0 added a new category to evaluate agencies’ progress with the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act, which was signed into law in December. MGT’s centralized revolving capital fund ($100 million allocated this fiscal year) allows agencies to compete for funding for their transformation initiatives. Even more significant, MGT enables agencies to establish their own working capital funds so they can reinvest savings generated in one year across three-year IT modernization initiatives. Previously, money saved in one year was money lost in the next year’s budget.

Agencies with an MGT-specific working capital fund with a CIO in charge of decision-making would receive an “A.” No one is there yet, but three agencies earned a “B” for demonstrating that their efforts to implement a working capital fund in 2018 or 2019 are sincere and in progress. As agencies set up these funds, they would be wise to funnel some of the money into HCI initiatives, and then dump the savings achieved from those programs back into the fund for future transformation initiatives. Our recent research with IDC has shown that organizations can achieve a 6x ROI over five years with HCI solutions.

Full Speed Ahead – A Team Effort

As agencies begin their journey toward HCI adoption, they may face some challenges or concerns around the network requirements. Some federal environments may have very strict, outdated networking guidelines, which can be too restrictive for quick, easy adoption.

To overcome this challenge, agencies must engage the networking teams from the very beginning of the process, and work together to identify any networking roadblocks before implementation. By identifying and addressing these issues at the onset, agencies lay the groundwork for successful adoption.

Early successful HCI implementations have centered around virtual desktop deployments, but agencies are just beginning to scratch the opportunity surface as they start to move mission-critical systems to HCI environments. Overall, HCI will vastly improve government IT efficiency – freeing up time that was previously spent configuring individual compute, storage, and network elements, as well as making sure all the pieces worked together, that can now be spent on strategic programs that directly drive innovation in the data center and beyond.

By: Jeremy Merrill, Global VxRail & VxRack SDDC Product Technologist, Dell EMC | Server and Infrastructure Systems