Data Center Consolidation

Social Security preps data reboot

The Social Security Administration is in the midst of a major project to modernize how it stores and processes its massive troves of data. The agency plans to move data housed at the National Computer Center, an aging facility built in 1979, to the just-constructed National Support Center, a 300,000-square-foot, Tier 3 facility located outside Baltimore, not far from SSA's main data center.

The new center will "eliminate hundreds of physical servers and take advantage of thin provisioning to increase data storage efficiency, decrease costs, and allow for more flexibility and scalability to meet SSA's data storage and processing needs," CIO Bill Zielinski wrote in a recent blog post.

He said SSA finished converting computer tapes to a virtual library last October and then began installing the physical network and storage equipment. Once that is finished in March, SSA will migrate data and production to the National Support Center. That phase will be completed in August 2016.

If that seems like a long time, consider that SSA stores 33 petabytes of information on its mainframes, and the agency's two live data centers (the one in Maryland and a secondary, backup system in North Carolina) process an average of 178 million transactions every day in the service of distributing $770 billion in annual benefits to 60 million recipients.

The conversion to a more efficient, virtualized data center includes moving away from a legacy code base that is heavy on Cobol and ALC and toward more modern programming languages. The National Computer Center will continue to operate while the new data center is brought online.

Once the National Support Center is activated, SSA will begin enjoying the cost savings from a more efficient system. Zielinski wrote that the center will save "hundreds of thousands of dollars" annually in energy costs. The agency is currently developing metrics to track its power-use savings over time.

Congress allocated $500 million for the project under the 2009 economic stimulus package, with $100 million going to initial IT funding, according to agency budget documents. Work on the project cost about $80 million in fiscal 2014, the most recent period for which numbers are publicly available.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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