OPED - Consolidating data centers the open standards way

A data center infrastructure built on open standards can ease consolidation and network management burdens.

 Thought Piece OPED - Tim Solms, Vice President US Managing and Federal Director Worldwide Government Juniper Networks

The government’s data center consolidation initiative seems to have hit a speed bump. Last year, the Inspector General (IG) for the Defense Department mentioned via a report that the government’s data center consolidation efforts “need improvement.” Meanwhile, outgoing Defense Department CIO Terry Halvorsen recently admitted that data center closures have been lagging behind initial projections.

Although the IG report cited the Office of Management and Budget’s decision to expand the data center target list to include smaller centers as the main reason for the lag, technology hurdles are likely also causing some issues. For example, many existing data centers remain heavily reliant upon proprietary legacy software that may have been installed years ago and is difficult to integrate with other tools. Converging and consolidating closed solutions can often be a prescription for frustration, as many of these solutions will very likely not work together effectively.

A data center infrastructure built on open standards can ease consolidation and network management burdens. Open standards can accelerate the Defense Department’s data center consolidation efforts while also improving network security and agility.

 Open standards lead to greater flexibility and better interoperability

Software built on open standards is inherently more flexible and interoperable than proprietary solutions. Likewise, well documented application programming interfaces (APIs) significantly reduce the cost of integration with the other tools and technologies that comprise a modern data center. This openness and flexibility can also make it much easier for managers to combine different infrastructures because they do not have to struggle with closed systems that may not be easily integrated.

That flexibility can also help strengthen an agency’s security posture. Threat vectors are continually evolving, and hackers are becoming increasingly savvy. Data centers and networks cannot be immovable objects; they must be capable of quickly adapting to address these threats.

Open standards provide agencies with the ability to quickly integrate new innovative solutions as necessary. Because they are open, these solutions can be easily patched or upgraded to protect against the latest viruses and known attacks. A network built on open standards is a network that can be readily adjusted to address a rapidly changing cybersecurity landscape.

Beyond providing a malleable infrastructure for data center consolidation, solutions built on open standards also provide a sense of freedom that has traditionally been missing in government IT. It wasn’t so long ago that federal agencies would rely on one or two authorized vendors for entire systems, simply because those systems were designed to work together. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Embracing open standards eliminates vendor lock-in, so agencies can choose which solutions work best for their technical needs and budgets.

Software-defined solutions allow for greater agility

Despite the innovations over the last 20 years, networking has – until recently -- been immune from disruption. However, there’s now a rising demand for agile networks based on services and software, with hardware on the back end. The government wants to build exceptionally fast networks that can deliver more capabilities and next-generation services.

There’s intense interest in software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). These are very disruptive networking technologies that can help government administrators better manage the massively complex networks that will inevitably result from consolidation. They can also introduce automation into those networks, allowing managers to focus on mission-critical tasks.

Since they are based on open standards, SDN and NFV can serve as common building blocks for government data centers. These building blocks can help expedite the consolidation process while providing an enormous amount of flexibility, which will be necessary as government networks evolve over time.

Fortunately, the federal government has made committing to open standards a top IT priority. That commitment will not only open up a path for accelerating the Defense Department’s consolidation initiative; it will also help our government create highly flexible and modernized networks that are built for the future.