McGrath says the bureau is looking to expand its use of commercial cloud-based computing services where appropriate, and is also leveraging its experience with these vendors to build the Census private cloud.
"We have a pretty aggressive internal cloud effort that we are building out," McGrath says. "There are still some concerns about the security in the public cloud. I have every confidence that those will work out in coming years. For us, [the plan] is to leverage the efficiencies of cloud technology and build an internal cloud."
One reason Census can move so aggressively into cloud computing is that it has been migrating to virtualization over the last 18 months. As of June, the agency had 427 virtual machines running on 57 server platforms. Census uses VMWare as its virtualization platform. The bureau said it has spent $6.1 million on the hardware and software for its Windows virtual farm.
"We've highly virtualized our Windows environment," McGrath explained. "We've gone from a model where we had one application on one server. Now we've got hundreds of guests in our virtual farms, and we are realizing significant savings of $2 million a year because we've compressed down our hardware footprint."
Next up for Census is virtualizing its Linux servers, which are standardized on RedHat. "We're doing a cost-benefit analysis," McGrath says. "It looks like of our 1,000 Linux servers, 80% are very good candidates for virtualization because they are probably running at 20% utilization or less"
Census also is looking at homogenizing and virtualizing its storage platforms, which contain more than 2.5 petabytes of data from the decennial census and other regular economic surveys that the bureau conducts.
"Virtualization is a piece of the overall cloud architecture," McGrath says. "It's a logical first step because what it allowed us to do is to really show in a limited investment, in a limited scale, the benefits of the cloud…We've been able to demonstrate to our customers that we are able to reduce our footprint, we're able to provision services more efficiently with less operations and maintenance costs, and our security costs are reduced because we can do security at the architecture level."
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