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FCW : April 30, 2013
ExecTe c h began investigating modular data centers earlier this year to improve continuity of operations in a disaster. For example, if a hurricane hits VA s Bay Pines facil- ity near Tampa, Fla., the contingency plan calls for the IT workload to temporarily move to VA facilities in unaffected areas. Shorter said the strategy is practical for short-term disruptions but creates challenges if the Florida data center stays down for an extended period. "How long can that failover data center take up all of the load, and what s the cost?" Shorter said. "Does that mean I can t deploy any new projects for the next six months because we are just limping along in disaster mode? That may not be acceptable." One possibility Shorter envisions is contracting for mobile data center capacity and having enough units arrive in Tampa to help keep the facility running inde nitely at near-normal capacity. The hurdles Despite their advantages, modular data centers do not work in all situations. For instance, part of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory s charter is to support extensive high- performance computing. The lab has one module that out- side organizations can use to tap into the lab s computing power for collaborative research projects. But of cials are not planning to install any additional pods in the immediate future because standard con gura- tions have limited value for high-performance computing, which has rigorous power and cooling requirements, said Anna Maria Bailey, high-performance computing program facility manager at LLNL. In addition, the lab s cost analyses showed no savings if the modules are installed outside the data center. "Even with a cube, it is not truly modular," she said. "We would still be required to do the site prep work. We would need the utilities brought over, there would still be trenching involved, and that actually represents quite a bit of the total cost. From a cost/bene t trade-off, traditional construction has actually proven to be more cost-effective for us than the modular approach." Beyond the concerns about costs, some agencies also fear vendor lock-in. Committing to a particular vendor s modular solution could reduce choices in terms of the brands and models of internal components and in terms of who services them if something goes wrong. It could, in turn, mean that agencies cannot shop around for lower-cost maintenance and repair services. In addition, CIOs should consider how well a module will work with existing resources. For example, data center infrastructure management applications provide a central console for monitoring a range of resources, including physi- cal and virtual servers and cooling and power-distribution systems. If a modular solution comes with its own DCIM capabilities, it should support standard interfaces for shar- ing information with an agency s existing DCIM program or other systems management applications. To avoid the challenge of managing modules separately rather than as part of the whole, agencies should ask for speci cs about the modular units openness. Tombe, however, sounded a note of caution. "It s ne to say that you want a solution like this to be based on open standards, but I recommend actually listing the primary standards that are critical to you," he said. "What one person means by an open standard may vary greatly from what someone else means." Finally, some federal IT of cials are concerned about whether the solutions are ready for prime time. Since CBP of cials began investigating modular data centers about two years ago, Tombe said they have found signi cant dif- ferences among them. "Not all vendors are at the same level of maturity or have the same capability when it comes to these products, so agencies will really want to do their research," he said. "It s not uncommon to have people promise the moon and then not be able to deliver. That just comes down to having really good vendor management to [ensure] that both the govern- ment agency and the vendor can be assured of success." ■ 32 April 30, 2013 FCW.COM Here are the steps to determining whether modular data centers should be part of your agency s IT strategy. 1. Understand the full nancial picture. Look beyond the cost of the modules and determine whether any physical enclosure will be needed to house the unit. If so, site work, permits, and weather could all affect costs and timing. 2. Factor in security. Determine how to protect data from physical and cyber breaches. You might need separate modules for classi ed information, with extra security if appropriate. 3. Think outside the pod. Agencies can bene t when IT service providers combine their offerings with data center modules. "With the budget cuts and scal constraints that are occurring across the federal government, a data center could contract for affordable cloud-based service that runs on a pod infrastructure, " said Wolf Tombe, chief technology of cer at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "That would be the ideal approach, rather than me hav- ing to buy the pod. " Is a modular data center right for your agency?
April 15, 2013
May 15, 2013