With cloud computing becoming an integral part of the business of government, the recent Derecho storm raised legitimate concerns about the increasing reliance on large, grid-dependent data centers.
As smart, self-healing grids are still years out, cloud service providers are starting to see a new selling point in offering grid-independent solutions.
The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), a cloud security assessment program using an “approve once use many times” model, will likely accelerate the adoption of cloud computing within government agencies. Numerous cloud providers who are currently applying for FedRAMP accreditation may start to see grid independence as a smart differentiator to win government business in a competitive marketplace.
Off-grid data centers will likely be attractive to government agencies as the disruption of cloud based data and applications can seriously hamper staff efficiency and agency operations. They also contribute to organizations’ disaster recovery and COOP capabilities.
A disruption in operations can add up to millions of dollars of lost taxpayer money very quickly. For example, when agencies shut down for 5 days in 2010 after “Snowmageddon” the final cost was estimated at about $355 million. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the number of U.S. power outages affecting 50,000 or more consumers has almost doubled from 2004.
The government cannot afford to be reliant upon an aging grid.
While the demand for off-the-grid services is definitely rising, the power needs of data centers and the anticipated increase in cost present formidable challenges. Today, data centers in the U.S. consume the electricity equivalent to the amount used by approximately 5.8 million US households a year. In addition, most data centers can’t be easily retrofitted without interrupting operations.
Despite these challenges, there have been significant strides in relocating data centers into new facilities that allow for strategic use of renewable resources.
One promising project is being led by the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), Clarkson University, AMD and Hewlett-Packard. This group plans to build two data centers in two different locations; one of which will use solar power and the other wind power. This novel approach will involve utilizing the two data centers’ capacity based on their available energy resources at the time.
Additionally, Syracuse University, IBM and NYSERDA have built an off-grid data center using a tri-generational system using thermal energy for power. Other projects are experimenting with bio gas or fuel cells and using the grid partly as backup power.
While government agencies are not going to be purchasing cloud services from grid independent data centers tomorrow, the trend is clear. As agencies continue to obtain efficiencies and savings from moving more applications to the cloud, the continuity of its operations will become increasingly important and off-the-grid services will be put on the map.
Bob Monahan is a business unit director at DRC (firstname.lastname@example.org.)