There are many emerging technologies designed to help Federal managers optimize their data centers and operate their information technology infrastructures more efficiently. But with so many new choices, how do agencies pick the best solutions?

According to industry and government experts, a host of new technologies like software-defined storage (SDS), converged infrastructure, and hyperconverged infrastructure are all gaining momentum in Federal agencies. Any or all of these could help improve agency infrastructure, so the question becomes one of choosing an exact match compared with needs.

“Really, this is about identifying your application portfolio up front, and determining your modernization strategy. What typically falls out of that is a hybrid enterprise that is converged,” said Cameron Chehreh, chief technology officer and vice president of presales engineering with Dell EMC Federal.

SDS is an approach to data storage in which software controls storage-related tasks. It is completely decoupled from physical storage hardware, allowing for the use of commodity hardware. The main reason organizations are deploying SDS is to help simplify the management of heterogeneous storage systems, Henry Baltazar, research vice president of infrastructure with 451 Research, noted in a recent MeriTalk interview.

Converged infrastructure is the concept of simplifying today’s three-tier architecture of networking, server, and storage, Chehreh noted. Converged infrastructure is about massively simplifying the deployment of those three components by integrating them into a single appliance. Managers can then leverage automation at the hardware level for the operation and maintenance of the converged infrastructure.

Hyperconvergence is a type of infrastructure system with a software-centric architecture that tightly integrates compute, storage, networking, virtualization resources, and other technologies in a commodity hardware box supported by a single vendor. It is designed to replace legacy infrastructures comprised of separate servers, storage networks, and storage arrays.

“Hyperconvergence is a converged hardware stack with software-defined networking on top,” Chehreh said. “What that gives you is the ability to create a foundation for a software-defined data center that is cloud-enabled.”

When determining which converged option is best suited for an agency’s data center, managers must examine their application portfolio and determine how it maps to their mission’s needs. Every application is different, although there are common components or attributes that each application can share.

Three-tier, labor-intensive applications might be better suited for a converged infrastructure, while a general purpose, general-use application would be better suited for a hyperconverged infrastructure where it can ride on a more native cloud or software-defined infrastructure, Chehreh explained. A hyperconverged infrastructure would give managers the ability to use software to massively scale workloads.

Consider the payroll application for civilian Federal employees run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Business Enterprise Center. That is a very laborious operation which processes payroll for six million employees every week. “Its processing is quite tedious because of the volume, regulatory environment and tax laws. There is a great opportunity for that frontend piece–not the mainframe piece–but the frontend interface to run on a converged infrastructure,” Chehreh said.

On the other hand, Chehreh continued, within the same agency, managers probably rely on Microsoft SharePoint, Outlook, Office 365, or even native Office. Those are good examples of applications that could run on hyperconverged infrastructures, leveraging the technology’s ability to massively scale applications.

Software-defined is about efficiency and scale in today’s modern data center, and its implementation requires selecting the right platform. “Do you need a platform with converged networking, server, and storage on an appliance, or do you need a software layer on top to give your infrastructure more capabilities and extensibility,” Chehreh asked.

So the key, according to Chehreh, is for Federal agencies to first map the applications they use, and see whether, for example, they are part of a large, laborious but repeated process, or broken up into several smaller applications such as Office suites that require massive scaling. Whatever the case, there is a specific infrastructure technology that will work best, and also things like hyperconvergence that might offer greater extensibility and interoperability by harmonizing multiple capabilities in the data center onto a common platform and software fabric.

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