With the increase in data demands and rising threats, government data centers face massive expectations to scale and rework their data infrastructure. Last year’s challenges around COVID-19 have only increased the demand and urgency for digital transformation.
While government agencies are expected to provide the agility and scalability of the public cloud, this comes with significant challenges related to securing classified or confidential data, integrating legacy applications, and automating for more rapid deployments.
This article discusses what data center challenges government organizations face and how they can meet or exceed them. Using bare metal automation, government agencies can facilitate the building and operations of cloud-native infrastructure spanning from the core to the edge.
While the demands for a more cloud-like experience and digital transformation have been around the government sector for years, the COVID-related challenges of 2020 have put increased pressure on government IT to create more resiliency, automation and remote access.
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In 2020, whole sections of the government struggled to function because they weren’t able to get into the data center or get support to the network edge. Work from home initiatives and the lights-out approach increased the demand for automated and remote operations. This requires higher infrastructure resiliency and agility during disruptions or workload surges. Also, the need for this automation to extend to the edge of the cloud is increasingly important.
One response to these demands is government agencies beginning to move some applications to cloud-native architectures. In addition, new workloads such as AI and big data need to be managed in a cloud-like environment but perform better on bare metal hardware. The demand for a more cloud-like infrastructure has caused additional challenges for the government.
On the whole, the challenges limiting digital transformation for government agencies have not changed. However, the longer organizations allow these challenges to hold back transformation, the more difficult they are to overcome. The main challenges government organizations face are as follows:
While government agencies want the flexibility and agility of the public cloud, most are limited by the need to secure classified information. Transforming while staying in their own data center requires more flexible, automated, on-premise infrastructure solutions.
In certain cases, a micro-datacenter may need to be provisioned or deployed from scratch in a remote location where there are no IT resources. There may be a need, for example, to run a particular big data/AI workload in the field to avoid large movements of data or latency delays. Certain bare metal automation platforms now provide the capability to remotely provision, deploy, automate and operate those edge locations through the use of software agents. These platforms can hierarchically scale to tens of thousands or more edge devices and can continue to operate even with network outages.
Many government organizations run legacy applications that are so old, so ingrained in their existing infrastructure, or so difficult to replace, that any digital transformation must work with these applications in place. Some systems run on decades-old applications that have proven very difficult to modernize. Others can’t afford the interruptions in applications required to modernize because their systems must remain active 24/7. With a bare metal automation approach, it is now more feasible to migrate and integrate non-virtualized legacy applications together with newer ones into a more modern infrastructure.
Another problem that has emerged over the past decade or so is getting locked into a specific cloud provider. Cloud vendor lock-in can happen at the data transfer, application, and infrastructure levels if planning to avoid these issues is not done in advance. Government organizations are realizing it is impossible to go 100% cloud and must invest in on-premise infrastructure such as bare metal. Unfortunately for the data and applications that have moved to the cloud already, there is a large data egress toll to move out of AWS, Azure, and other providers. Rather than get locked into a cloud agreement, government agencies can see up to 5X TCO savings by running their own private cloud in their data center or a colocation data center instead of running in a public cloud.
As the above challenges illustrate, digital transformation is too big of a leap for many government infrastructures. Bare metal automation can provide a stepping stone approach towards digital transformation. It also offers a new alternative for CIOs to ease into digital transformation while maintaining control of data in their own colocation data centers or private clouds.
As a universal platform, bare metal provides the lowest common denominator with the highest performance. Legacy and cloud-native applications can all run on bare metal. Virtual machines, containers, NoSQL databases, legacy databases, machine learning/AI can all benefit from running on bare metal. For some workloads, the ability to have direct access to GPUs and accelerator cards on bare metal platforms can significantly improve performance.
Bare metal automation can provide an easier way to achieve digital transformation by breaking up the digital transformation into two distinct phases — migration and transformation — without further changes of the underlying infrastructure.
Building a bare metal cloud allows government agencies to tackle these two phases individually instead of needing to make one giant leap. After taking the initial step of making an application more flexible and cloud-like, the IT organization can transform the rest of the legacy applications if possible.
If the migration or replacement phase isn’t possible, due to the challenges already mentioned, the application can still run indefinitely on the bare metal cloud and get the benefits of a cloud-like platform. These benefits include lower costs, higher agility and more “lights-out” automation. This allows government agencies to take steps towards digital transformation and address the technology expectations they are facing while still dealing with the limitations of their existing infrastructure.
Some bare metal automation platforms offer increased performance and security through multi-tenant isolation at the server, network, and storage layers. Government IT can also use bare metal automation software to move vital databases, still under their control, to a co-located datacenter next to a public cloud to improve access in distributed computing environments. Some bare metal automation platforms also offer self-service capabilities and have built-in features to manage operational issues such as firmware upgrades and configuration drift.
Application and platform stacks that are already cloud-native can take advantage of running on top of bare metal automation platforms. Certain bare metal platforms offer superior server and network isolation as well as self-configurable, native L2 networking. Management of certain bare metal platforms can themselves be automated using infrastructure as code and CI/CD techniques. They can also support automated provisioning, deployment and scaling of applications.
The reality for some government agencies is that every technology modernization objective they desire to achieve in the coming years will not be attainable. However, bare metal offers a significant step towards digital transformation, whether the organization faces limitations or not. For agencies dealing with legacy applications, on-premise data security requirements, and the need for a more cloud-like infrastructure, bare metal automation platforms are a new alternative to consider that can also result in significant cost savings, reduced errors, and improve overall resiliency to events such as COVID.
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Bernie Wu is a technology executive leader and head of Business Development for MetalSoft.