Federal Government Adopting Open Source for Data Center Consolidation

Open-source software is growing in popularity as government IT managers are selecting open-source stacks as part of their data center consolidation strategy.

As federal agencies consolidate data centers, both government IT managers and service providers are increasingly looking at open source software stacks to ease the transition, according to the IDC Government Insights report released on Dec. 6.

Data Center consolidation also involves "migrating to new platforms, improving IT economics, eliminating unnecessary software licensing fees and reducing associated management costs," wrote Shawn P. McCarthy, research director for IDC Government Insights, in the report.

McCarthy's report, "Technology Selection: Open Source Solutions Will Drive Datacenter Consolidation and Cloud Growth," examined the use of open-source software in government data centers.

While some agencies have already begun the consolidation process, many are still in the process of evaluating their options and making decisions, McCarthy told eWEEK. There is a lot of choice, as agencies look at "increasingly powerful" open-source applications and cloud services, "that may or may not be open source," he said. Agencies have until the end of the year to come up with their plans, as they are expected to start executing in 2011, he said.

Data centers account for 15 to 20 percent of a typical agency's IT costs, said McCarthy. Agencies are bringing on large IT service providers to handle the tasks of consolidating and developing next-generation infrastructure, many of whom are using open-source software to lower their bids, he said.

IDC Government Insights named Oracle, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard as the three major solution providers that are handling government data center consolidations, according to the report. But there are a number of open source tools already being deployed in government, including the LAMP stack, which consists of Linux, Apache Web server, MySQL database, and Perl/PHP/Python. There also is a lot of interest in open source middleware and enterprise-class applications, especially for communications and business process, according to the report.

There is a "window of opportunity" for open source to become a powerful platform for data center consolidation, and "we expect to see rapid growth for some of these open solution stacks," said McCarthy.

Virtualization is a big trend in data center consolidation, and government is no different. Open source virtual machine products, such as VirtualBox, Palacios, and Xen, are "growing in popularity," according to McCarthy. While many of the open source products for virtual machine capabilities are not as "robust" as commercial applications, they are making "inroads" in government, he said.

The report identified certain market segments that are "vulnerable" to open-source penetration in the report. The popularity of Linux in the data center has "pretty much proven" that proprietary operating systems are "highly" vulnerable while server software is vulnerable, said McCarthy. Open-source databases such as MySQL are gaining enough traction to make databases highly vulnerable. Open Office and other office productivity suites are making proprietary suites "moderately" vulnerable, he said. Storage management and middleware applications were also moderately vulnerable, according to the report.

He noted that some of the open-source products, such as virtualization and middleware, might not be robust enough for some agencies. But there are other agencies that don't need full-scale proprietary packages for these purposes, according to the report.

Government procurement managers "strongly consider" cloud-based solutions and IT services, McCarthy said. For example, Google's cloud-based Google Apps beat out Microsoft for the United States General Services Administration contract to replace IBM Lotus Notes on Dec. 2.

The White House has been pressuring federal agencies in 2010 to combine their sprawling IT operations, said McCarthy. According to the guidelines published by the Office of Management and Budget, the goal of the data center consolidation initiative is to help cut $3 billion from the federal budget and to reduce the government's real estate holdings,which includes 2,000 federal data centers, said McCarthy.