Jul 09 2013
Data Center

How Unified Computing Speeds Delivery of New Services

Early adopters benefit from reduced hardware needs and greater agility.

Alaska has plenty of room to roam, and that includes its Juneau data center. Server virtualization enabled the state to shed 27 racks of hardware, which in turn has freed up floor space and reduced energy consumption.

The state's $3.2 million investment in unified computing platforms speeds service delivery and allows Alaska to deliver those services more cost-effectively. In 2011, the state deployed NetApp FlexPod systems to virtualize its Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau data centers and support private-cloud computing, says Corey Kos, enterprise architect for the state. FlexPod comprises Cisco Unified Computing System servers, Cisco Nexus switches and NetApp storage gear.

The FlexPod systems replace rack-mounted and blade servers and integrate with the state's existing Cisco WAN. "I wanted to consolidate and drive efficiency within the enterprise data center with what we had, while keeping in mind our goal to become an internal cloud provider," says Kos.

Those efficiencies are most evident in service delivery. For example, a Microsoft Exchange upgrade involving 65 custom virtual machines was up and running in 30 days. "Before I came on board, working on this upgrade with physical hardware would have taken a year or more," Kos says. What's more, the state doesn't need to purchase as much hardware, especially for backup.

Like Alaska, a growing number of government IT shops are discovering that unified computing platforms pay for themselves quickly in terms of faster time to launch new applications and reduced hardware maintenance.

"If you are an enterprise of any size, you have to modernize your own IT infrastructure to bring the cloud model into your environment," says Frank Gens, senior vice president and chief analyst for IDC. "Unified computing systems are a key building block that simplify data center operations."

Speeding Up Provisioning with Server Virtualization

It used to take Alaska's IT group between three and six months to deploy a new server, but the group now provisions two virtual servers online every day. "We had a track record of taking years to deploy infrastructure for solutions, so reducing inefficiency was my No. 1 goal," Kos says.

This summer, the state will complete the upgrade to Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager) v.8, hosted on a unified computing platform. "I'm looking forward to migrating voice. That will be a bold statement for some folks that we've made a full transition to unified computing," Kos says.

The Application Migration

The city of Mesa, Ariz., is wrapping up a three-year project to upgrade and migrate its finance, budget, human resources, payroll and planning systems onto a Cisco UCS platform. Alex Deshuk, manager of technology and innovation for Mesa, intially adopted unified computing to streamline IT operations, but city officials now seek to provide cloud services to other departments and neighboring jurisdictions.

"The idea started with data center virtualization to reduce operating costs and increase management flexibility," Deshuk says. "Once the virtualization was there, we came up with an overall plan for Mesa to be a regional leader. A lot of our neighboring cities are smaller than we are and don't have the capacity to support big infrastructure projects."

Mesa's Cisco UCS platform supports its core enterprise resource planning applications and those operated by the Parks and Recreation department. The next internal customer to transition to the unified computing system will be the Mesa Police Department, which will begin migrating applications to the new infrastructure this summer. To better support the critical applications required for public safety, Deshuk says the city will deploy another offsite Cisco UCS platform for redundancy within the next few months.

Deshuk says Mesa reaps many benefits from its Cisco UCS rollout, including lower cost of ownership compared with its aging mainframe, as well as simplified operations. He adds that budget projections that once took 24 hours to complete are now done in 40 minutes, thanks to the power of the unified computing platform.

With a total investment of roughly $750,000 on the unified computing system, including the backup site, the purchase already generates savings in server hardware, power consumption and staff time. "We are saving a quarter of a million dollars in boxes, power and the time spent to upgrade and patch servers," Deshuk estimates. "But this investment wasn't just meant to save money. It's an integral part of our business strategy."

Deshuk recommends that government agencies migrate their noncore, stand-alone applications to unified computing platforms first before tackling more critical applications. "After we had the back-end and smaller verticals like the park systems done, we did the big core business systems like ERP and document management," he says. Mesa's Police Department requires another layer of multitenancy and separate ownership, management and security, he explains.

The IT leader's other piece of advice is to deploy a backup unified computing platform earlier in the process. "Until we get the second box up and running, we increase our potential for catastrophic failure," he says. "We'll have additional comfort and resiliency when the backup system is live."

Consolidation Starts with a Unified Foundation

As part of an initiative to consolidate data centers, eliminate hardware and reduce power needs, the state of New Mexico in 2011 deployed a unified computing system in its Santa Fe data center.

The Cisco UCS platform has allowed New Mexico to eliminate dozens of servers so far. "We upgraded and virtualized our Microsoft Exchange system to Exchange 2010, and multiple racks of servers went away with just that one system alone," says Darryl Ackley, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Information Technology.

Ackley says the main benefits of the unified computing platform have been in freeing IT staff from having to maintain physical servers and speeding their ability to stand up new virtual servers.

"I remember asking my staff to set up a server for me to demonstrate a new technology, and the estimate I was given was a couple of months. That's been reduced to a couple of days," he says. "We're nimble if somebody wants to spin up an experimental platform. That kind of improvement translates into much more efficient and cost-effective capability."

With the majority of its IT applications migrated to the Cisco UCS platform, the New Mexico IT department now offers services to other state agencies. "Our vision for this is that it operates as a private-cloud infrastructure for the state," Ackley says. "It's truly built with business continuity and disaster recovery in mind. That's where we want to go next."


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