Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

When Moving to a Converged Infrastructure Makes Sense

Every IT department throughout government today is faced with many challenges, from reigning in sprawling data centers and reducing operating costs to serving users who expect fast, secure access to data and systems. Traditionally, agencies have relied on a data center model that treats server, storage and networking technology as separate resources with their own management systems, IT experts and processes. While this model still has merit in some cases, it has become more complex to manage and expensive to maintain these islands of automation, especially as business demands change and the efficiency and cost pressures rise.

Just like their counterparts in the private sector, government IT managers are beginning to see the value in converged systems for some of their workloads. They are finding that they not only save money and reduce complexity, but help IT better align with agency priorities.

A converged system is a pre-assembled, pretested pool of commodity X86 servers, storage, networking, security and management software. The IT department only has to add its own applications and a hypervisor such as vSphere to create a complete converged infrastructure. This modular, standardized infrastructure can easily be scaled up and deployed to new locations or workloads as needed. It also increases automation of traditionally time-consuming tasks, such as the testing required when new technology is added to the data center.

The benefits are impressive; a converged infrastructure can increase application availability, centralize and simplify management, enable rapid provisioning of new systems and virtual machines, lower operation and maintenance costs, improve visibility and control, and reduce hardware footprint.

The idea is gaining steam fast. According to IDC, 75 percent of organizations will have either implemented or be evaluating converged infrastructure solutions by the end of this year. IDC also forecasts that spending on converged systems will grow from $2 billion in 2011 to $17.8 billion in 2016.

When does a converged infrastructure approach make sense?

There are many ways that agencies can benefit from converged infrastructure. In general, the most successful use cases are for isolated work environments such as new initiatives or IT projects. Examples might include an ERP solution for a specific project, or a VDI initiative for a large group or a server or SAN refresh. In the case of the ERP solution, for example, an agency might implement a converged infrastructure solution with three servers, along with server virtualization software, and begin testing workloads. If it works well, the IT department could add more capacity to the infrastructure as required.

In the case of a server and storage refresh, an agency might have 50 servers reaching end of life along with a storage area network that’s full to capacity. By choosing the converged approach, the agency would get storage and servers for the workload in that environment, enabling it to break free of the older servers and storage as necessary. By doing it this way, the agency may have excess compute and storage capacity in the short term, but will be fully covered as it transitions away from older equipment. At the same time, the agency will be able to add to the converged infrastructure modularly as requirements change, and will be in a better position for the inevitable move to the software-defined data center.

Another major use of converged infrastructure is for branch offices, which often rely on older, less efficient technology with higher risks of downtime. Keeping the lights on and remaining productive in branch offices is a well-known challenge; according to Forrester research, organizations spend more than $4 billion per year on remote office IT.

By centralizing branch systems and data on a converged infrastructure, branch offices can more easily maintain and control their server, storage and networking infrastructure in a single appliance. It also takes up much less space—a boon to small branch offices—and provides the branch office with all of the virtualization it needs to run workloads such as file, print, directory services and custom apps. Backup and restore also are automated, reducing the risk of data loss and downtime.