Federal Government Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI)

The importance of adopting an interconnection-first strategy

Don Wiggins
Federal Government Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI)

As part of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) established the DCOI policy to help Federal agencies:

  • Develop and report on data center strategies
  • Transition to more efficient infrastructure, such as cloud services and inter-agency shared services
  • Leverage technology advancements to optimize infrastructure
  • Provide quality services for the public good

A key part of DCOI has been identifying viable commercial alternatives to traditional federally built, owned and operated facilities. These facilities often succumb to capacity constraints, spiraling OPEX/CAPEX expenditures and stifled innovation. However, innovation is critical to keeping pace with new technologies that can often translate into enhanced operational efficiency, enhanced security, cost avoidance and many of other features integral to mission execution.

The data center, or colocation business, has evolved significantly over the past 10-15 years with the role of a data center being central to that evolutionary process. Simply put, a quick comparison of data centers of the past and present is summarized as follows:

Traditional Federal Data Center

  • Primarily built for a single or limited number of tenants to host infrastructure, applications and data
  • Built to an existing specification based on standards of the day (power, cooling, security, operations, etc.)
  • Built in isolation or in re-appropriated space within an agency’s HQ, military installation or other location, where required ancillary services must be hauled in from distant locations for access (network transport, Internet, voice, cloud, etc.). All of this comes at a premium while impacting performance due to extended proximity from the core of these services (signal attenuation, latency, etc.).

Modern Commercial Data Center Alternative (Wholesale vs. Retail Providers)

  • Wholesale facilities are built with the latest innovations and purposed to host a single or limited number of large commercial entities (e.g., network and cloud service providers, etc.). They are typically built, by design proximal to retail facilities.
  • Retail Facilities are built with the latest innovations and are purposed for multi-tenants (large enterprises, government agencies, SMB, etc.) collocated, yet physically isolated, from one another with secure steel mesh cage spaces built to customer specification. The customer relocates their equipment into this new cage space and securely operates and maintains their government-furnished equipment (GFE) infrastructure.
  • Retail facilities, particularly those with a carrier-neutral designation, now serve as digital marketplaces where thousands of service providers occupy space and can deliver core services to end customers who’ve established presence in the very same facilities. This proximal adjacency to network, cloud and managed services significantly reduces costs while also availing many innovative automated or dynamically provisioned services that can be consumed and/or discontinued as required.

It’s also important to note that commercial data center providers have observed and implemented security compliance and certifications required by federal customers that enable them to securely extend their operations into these facilities. Equinix, for example, maintains a Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) high certification across its entire North American platform with comparable certifications outside the continental United States (OCONUS), such as ISO 27001, a standard for the universal methodology for the implementation, management, and maintenance of information security. These certifications enable government customers to collocate and privately connect with confidence to nearly 400 public and/or FedRAMP-accredited clouds participating in the Equinix ecosystem.

Hosting platforms of the future: Colocation vs. interconnection

As commercial data center operators continue to differentiate their offerings to attract business, it’s important to make a key distinction among the many providers in the industry today:

Colocation Providers: Their primary focus is in providing low-cost hosting capacity for their customers. Existing digital marketplace/service provider options will typically be limited while vast majority of services must still be accessed remotely from interconnection providers where carrier neutrality, provider density and access to services is the primary focus. While colocation costs will typically be cheaper, the cost associated with accessing services from an interconnection provider can be significant and suboptimal from a performance perspective

Interconnection Providers: They provide secure, compliant, state-of-the-art colocation services with a primary focus on the curation and enablement of an extensible digital marketplace. Carrier-neutral by design, this is where cloud providers will land their edge nodes to enable direct, private, high-speed, low-latency access to their services. Similarly, network service providers will land their core networks here for optimal service distribution and private peering with supply chain partners, etc. The interconnection provider will introduce innovative peering platforms that enable ease of access, consumption and delivery of services. Most importantly, (as illustrated below) it enables the adoption of a more flexible application-centric, regionally distributed architecture – typically resulting in a gradual departure from traditional, rigid, central core, network-centric architectures. Geo-strategic alignment of network, security, applications, data and the user communities who consume them assures the quality of experience that agencies require for the mission.

Regionally Distributed Architecture

The hub construct above can be replicated across our 52 CONUS/OCONUS metro locations that collectively comprise 200 data centers across 5 continents on Platform Equinix® .

Interconnection Drives the Mission at the Digital Edge
Transitioning to an interconnection-first architecture

Equinix: the world’s largest interconnection provider

Over the last 20 years, Equinix has grown into the largest carrier-neutral interconnection platform – with direct access to 2,900+ cloud and IT service providers and 1,800+ network providers operating in our facilities across 52 markets in 24 countries. Nearly 10,000 public and private sector customers have recognized the advantages of establishing a highly secure, physical presence on our platform to enable turn-key access to a continuously growing ecosystem of thousands of service providers. Today, our customers can be interconnected using our dynamically-provisioned Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™) Network-as-a-Service in all of its 37 markets located across five continents. This proximal access, particularly through the introduction of industry-first SDN-enabled “as-a-service” peering and transport services that can be turned on or off by the customer via secure portal, has been incredibly disruptive. This feature translates into the delivery of service in minutes versus weeks or months by traditional means. More on this and other customer-centric services in a moment.

Interconnection’s role in digital transformation

As government agencies begin to execute their respective DCOI efforts with an interconnection-first methodology, they quickly discover, among other things, an immediate return in network costs. Traditional core MPLS network costs continue to spiral with the addition of expensive MPLS circuits to connect distant locations to the core with minimal consideration of impact to applications. Whereas, a regionally distributed approach seeks to purposefully establish interconnection hubs proximal to agency locations, where the localization of last mile connections to the hub can return significant cost savings while greatly enhancing the performance of applications, many of which are now hybrid cloud or cloud native in origin. Establishing proximal ingress/egress of these applications delivers on the expectation of operational efficiency and performance of next-generation applications. As agencies begin to lean in on use cases involving IoT/smart facilities and bases, and varied forms of data collection/advanced analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), inter-agency collaboration, etc. as part of their digital transformation journey, an interconnection-first approach will be key in the acceleration of those initiatives.

Moving DCOI forward with interconnection

Many federal agencies have made the move to Equinix both in piece-meal and large-scale migrations. And while seeking a DCOI-driven efficient alternative is top of mind, doing so on our global interconnection platform also positions them in a future-leaning posture where they can readily leverage emerging technologies (e.g., AI, IoT, etc.) and private, proximal access to clouds, networks and collaborative communities of interest.

To that end, Equinix’s 451 Firestarter award-winning ECX Fabric enables our customers to securely:

  • Self-provision via secure portal up to 10G private, point-to-point connections in both inter-metro and/or inter-region within 10 minutes
  • Connections can be made to local and/or remote cloud providers who participate on the platform
  • Connections can be made to local and/or remote customer points of presence, enabling a customer with multiple locations to rapidly create a customer mesh with our fabric within minutes (site resiliency, disaster recovery/continuity of operations, etc.)
  • Private peering connections can likewise be made between collaborative customers to federate operations. For example, an agency with a presence in Equinix/Ashburn, VA can connect to another agency with presence in Equinix/San Jose CA, the UK or Australia in 10 minutes.

Equinix will continue to focus on innovation from an interconnection perspective. Most of our offerings on the platform today offer optional API integration to further streamline access and use of services. Our secure, state-of-the-art facilities leverage multiple sources of renewable energy and offer customer-accessible infrastructure management services that fully integrate with data center infrastructure management (DCIM) systems to provide exceptional operational insight.

We consider our relationship with the Federal Government to be very strategic in nature and will continue to grow our partnership, providing industry insights and access to continued innovation on our platform. In short, we’re very proud of our heritage in the collocation and interconnection business but never complacent. If we’re to continue our role as industry leaders, it’s imperative that we listen to our customers and put them first in everything we do – it’s what drives our internal fly wheel of innovation and will ensure we continue to lead in the years ahead.

To learn more, download the U.S. Federal Government Digital Edge Playbook.

You may also want to check out the following Federal Executive Forum radio broadcast:
Data Center Optimization in Government 2019 “Progress & Best Practices”where government and industry experts discuss the progress on actual federal data center optimization programs and lessons learned, the challenges agencies still need to overcome, and their vision for the future.

And, you can view this webinar “The Federal Executive Forum’s Data Center Optimization in Government 2019,” to learn how top government technology executives from the Justice Department, State Department and Federal Aviation Administration are addressing the challenges and opportunities around data center optimization.


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