Data Center Best Practices for the Public Sector
A data center that’s well-architected and well-maintained can be the catalyst for modernizing and streamlining operations. But given the scale and complexity of public sector IT, it’s easy to overlook the many nuances of data center management. This article outlines five vital data center best practices for public sector organizations to consider.
1. Aim for a Cloud-First Strategy – Not a Cloud-Only Strategy
The trend towards public cloud computing has been growing among businesses and consumers alike – especially with the recent shift to remote work. However, the public sector tends to rely on complex legacy systems, and public sector organizations have unique challenges that impede their ability to adopt new technologies.
Additionally, many public sector operations also have functionality that doesn’t suit public cloud computing. While it’s not impossible to host these assets in the cloud, many organizations choose to keep the following in-house:
- Registries with personal information.
- Accounting and financial applications.
- Any data subject to strict compliance regulations, like HIPAA.
Many assets can be adapted to suit the cloud; however, a fully cloud organization in the public sector is currently rare. These organizations should strive for long-term evolution towards the cloud instead of trying to overhaul all of their assets to the cloud at once.
We recommend public sector organizations focus on instilling a cloud-first mentality, not a cloud-only one. With this strategy, the cloud is the go-to method where it works, and private data centers or in-house servers host the remaining assets. Rather than trying to force square assets into round cloud-computing holes, so to speak, this approach helps organizations build a strong hybrid strategy over time that’s customized to meet their unique needs. Cisco Hyperflex is a great place to start for organizations looking to build hybrid data centers.
A cloud-first approach requires both a strong cloud strategy and a strong in-house data center strategy. Whether your organization is taking on a cloud migration for the first time or already has some assets hosted publicly, security, flexibility and diligent monitoring are key to keeping this strategy viable.
2. Prioritize Security
Data centers are a virtual treasure trove to hackers – especially in the public sector, where they can host personal information, financial records, confidential government data and more. Cybersecurity needs to be a non-negotiable top priority for any public sector data center.
At its core, cybersecurity is risk management, which involves understanding, identifying and assessing risk in order to eliminate, mitigate or transfer it.
To protect your data center assets, make sure they are only accessed with secure devices on a secure network. While network security is a large (and necessary) undertaking that tends to look different organization to organization, a few common protocols include:
- Only allowing secured company-issued devices on the network.
- Securing network access via multi-factor authentication.
- Guarding the network with a secure firewall.
- Only allowing off-site activity via a secure VPN.
When implementing your cybersecurity framework, look to existing frameworks, like NIST CSF, CIS Controls or HITRUST. These frameworks define security parameters and objectives for different industries and types of organizations, and are the best foundation for your cybersecurity efforts. Do not start from scratch, model your cybersecurity strategy after an established framework that fits your needs.
In any cybersecurity environment, note that permissions to access and make back-end changes should be narrowly and carefully assigned. Keep a list of personnel with these permissions and track any changes, taking care to quickly revoke access when an employee leaves the organization and update the list with any newly granted access.
3. Be Flexible in Your Design and Management
In the world of data center technology, what’s modern today is ancient tomorrow. With this mind, it’s important to be flexible when designing and managing your data center solutions.
Public sector organizations should strive for data center architecture that can survive regulatory changes, quickly adapt to new security threats and provide redundancy to ensure mission-critical services are always available. This will future-proof their investment and make sure data centers meet the growing demands of employees and the people they serve.
Today’s data center does not have four walls. Modern data centers are designed to be elastic, instantly changing in shape and capability to meet demands. This dynamism powers automation and orchestration, and makes data centers ideal for:
- Applications that can divide their load across many servers.
- Applications requiring sporadic availability, with unpredictable spikes and drops in resource usage.
- Microservices architecture.
- SOAP/API services.
For example, an organization could design its data center so its applications and services have no dependencies on the data center’s physical architecture, giving them free rein to move between public clouds or even on-premise servers, based on factors like quality of service and price with no impact to the end-users.
Many public sector organizations tend to resist IT changes. Monitoring metrics is critical to identifying and justifying changes that are necessary to accommodate evolving needs.
4. Monitor Metrics for Ongoing Optimization
In the spirit of maintaining flexibility, organizations should monitor metrics to help them optimize data centers by pinpointing what’s working well and which areas need improvement. This is especially important for public sector organizations with multi-tiered decision-making and approval processes, as it will make the need for changes clear and provide evidence to support calls for optimization.
Some common data center KPIs to monitor for include:
- Power usage effectiveness (PUE). This shows how efficiently your data center is using energy.
- Capacity (with a focus on free capacity).
- Cost. This can include energy costs, cloud licensing, hardware expenses, co-location costs and other related expenditures.
- Response times. Slow response times could indicate a need for higher capacity or additional licensing.
- Space used versus space remaining. Private data centers have a finite amount of space. Nearing spatial capacity could warrant upgrading servers to more compact and powerful versions or migrating certain functionality to the public cloud.
Many organizations partner with a data center consulting team to identify what KPIs it should monitor. Some providers, like cStor, offer ongoing monitoring as part of their managed services.
5. Work With a Qualified Partner
cStor has deep expertise in data center services and the public sector. We help customers design and manage private data centers, and we work with organizations before, during and after cloud migrations to help them build a healthy, well-monitored environment.
If your organization is interested in optimizing its data center strategy or realigning its data center best practices, we can help. Our experts have decades of experience assisting public sector decision-makers through complicated IT integrations. We can help with cloud and data center readiness evaluations, system monitoring, security, governance and more. We even offer a simplified suite of on-demand IT services, ManageWise, as a flexible and affordable way to approach security, storage, compute, networking, backup and virtualization.
cStor can help simplify and streamline your IT. Partner with us to ensure a smooth, goal-orientated migration.
To get you started, we’ve put together a guide designed to help organizations like yours develop an actionable plan to migrate to the public cloud. Download the guide, How to Build a Realistic Public Cloud Deployment Model, to explore the path to public cloud deployment.