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TSA packs bags tight with data center consolidation initiative

The TSA is overhauling its IT infrastructure with equipment upgrades, virtualization and cloud as part of a major data center consolidation initiative.

The data center strategy at the TSA went through the IT equivalent of a full-body scan as part of a massive consolidation...


In the next four months, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will consolidate several large computer rooms in Washington, D.C. that were "not enterprise-class environments" into a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data center, which will include "top-notch" physical and logical security, according to TSA CIO Stephen Rice.

Three more moves are planned through 2016 and are part of a larger initiative launched in 2010 known as the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.

"Calendar year 2016 will be the year of data center and TSA IT infrastructure upgrades," Rice said.

The process also involves moving many other components of DHS -- including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services -- into one of the two main DHS data centers located in Mississippi and Virginia.

The TSA's goals are similar to many other data center consolidation initiatives: drive down cost, modernize the architecture, increase density and free up space. The project was pushed into action by a series of things, including expiring leases on some offices in Washington, D.C. that hosted parts of the TSA's IT infrastructure and a request from HP, which manages one of the TSA's data centers, and advised the TSA to move from one pod to another to consolidate space. The agency also is facing the end of a human capital contract with Lockheed Martin Corp., which will be moved into a DHS data center.

"It forced us to look at our business a little bit differently," Rice said.

The TSA has undertaken data center moves and consolidation projects before, but never more than one at a time, Rice said.

TSA works toward cloud readiness

The TSA, established in 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, hopes to use cloud computing more to improve agility and reduce IT costs.

"We are preparing for cloud readiness," said Marjorie Trosterud, infrastructure section chief at TSA.

Already, the agency's website, TSA.gov, a citizen-facing mobile app and its application-building service are in the cloud, Rice said.

The TSA is platform agnostic, and will make its cloud decisions based on price and security, and shift workloads as needed. It uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure -- the latter being a "natural fit" because the TSA has a Microsoft environment, but it will work well with AWS because of its open environment, Rice said.

"Cloud, to us, is integral to TSA applications and services," Rice said.

TSA's transit to efficiency

The agency has 60,000 employees in 450 airports worldwide and screens about 2 million passengers per day. It runs traditional back-office applications, as well as Exchange, mobile device management, plus scheduling software for air marshals.

"All of our services will continue to be provided while our transition is ongoing," Rice said.

In the end, the project will have TSA's IT workloads running on beefier hardware on a smaller footprint, Trosterud said. The project will also involve optimizing storage requirements and network capacity, she said.

When complete, the TSA will be 95% virtualized, using Microsoft Hyper-V.

The TSA is a Dell shop and plans to buy new Dell PowerEdge R820 servers. It also uses EMC VMAX storage, EMC VPLEX for data virtualization, Oracle Enterprise Manager Ops Center for lifecycle management and the Microsoft System Center suite, along with systems management from NetIQ by Micro Focus International, Trosterud said

On the mobile front, Trosterud said the TSA is consolidating its Good Technology products, including Good for Enterprise, Good Connect and Dynamics, into the company's latest products, where mobile users can access all of their data and collaborate.

The TSA did not have an estimate of how much money it will save with the data center consolidation initiative. But, a TSA data center move in 2009 into one of the two main DHS data center was estimated to save $8.2 million a year.

The project schedule calls for four of the data center moves -- the server rooms in Washington, D.C. -- to wrap up by the end of 2015. A fifth will be moved by the end of February 2016, a sixth will involve moving TSA's human capital that was handled by Lockheed Martin by the end of June 2016, and the final one -- which hosts it financial systems in Chesapeake, Va. -- will transition to a Department of the Interior data center in Denver by the end of October 2016.

"It's a lot to bite off, but it allows us to look at where we will be at the end of this," Rice said.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or Email him at [email protected].

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