Government Servers: An Introduction
Probably the key trend in government server use today is consolidation and convergence. It's being driven by government-wide pressure to reduce costs by eliminating multiple redundant systems that have evolved over the years. This trend includes consolidation of application and database servers, convergence of telephone networks with Internet and voice over IP services, standardized storage and data routing services, and the ongoing convergence of voice, video, and data communications. In some ways convergence may result in fewer servers for traditional databases and applications. But at the same time, there is likely to be an increased demand for servers that will handle things like voice and video traffic.
Read this server definition for more background information on servers.
History of Servers in Government
Until the advent or personal computers, the dominant architecture for government computers was a central mainframe, which workers connected to via simple text terminals. The only variant in this theme was the arrival of departmental-level mini-computers that served smaller groups of people and allowed for the development of highly specialized applications, including a handful of graphical applications that were used for things like document layouts. (Keep in mind that mini-computers should not be confused with personal computers. Mini-computer, as a tech term, is now obsolete. It referred to a class of mid-level multi-user computers. They were really mini mainframes and they marked a significant march away from the era of the glass-house mainframe that served all departments.)
From Mainframes to Client/Server
A very small trickle of personal computers began arriving in government offices in the late 1970s. That trickle rose to a flood by the mid 1980s. Some people say that the arrival of PCs marked the beginning of the client/server era, but others will point out that the mini-computers mentioned above often provided special services and used client systems that often were more advanced then traditional dumb terminals. Either way, the advent of client-server marked the beginning of the "server era" for most people. But as client/server systems evolved, even mainframes could be treated as servers, offering data, specific applications, files, services, and more. Thus it is difficult these days to draw a clear distinction between a 'server" and a "mainframe."
Today, today, many government applications are Web-enabled, meaning that end-users can connect to and interact with the application via a standard Web browser. This makes the client system platform-agnostic and easy to administer because, in many cases, the client machine and the Web browser only need to supports a browser with the appropriate Java Virtual Machine (JVM) software. Because of this, the government no longer needs to support the dozens of different systems it used to require. (See the consolidation statements in the introduction paragraph of this page.)
Bottom line: The role of servers in government continues to evolve and adjust, while consolidation is still driving IT management decisions.
Because of the vast numbers of servers in operation within the government today, it's difficult to identify a single clear trend for where servers are headed. The bullet points below highlight some of the more high-profile developments.
- Commodity servers are gaining in popularity. These are the lower-end servers that are most useful for departments for for special applications. Because the so-called low-end servers continue to gain in power, some agencies are finding ways to use them the replace previously more expensive multi-user servers.
- Blade systems are gaining in popularity. Blades basically are self-contained computer servers, designed for high-density installations. The differ from standard rack-mount servers in that traditional rack-mount includes a full computer system, while a blade can sometimes be nothing more than a processor, and a system plug. The full blade enclosure provides the such as power, cooling, networking, and system management. They are a powerful solution for multiprocessing needs, and for the construction of high-end server systems.
- Renewed interest in thin-clients. While this is not a huge trend at this time, as more IT applications become Web-enabled (including basic office applications) some government departments are finding that they can cut costs by reducing desktop fat clients. Their preference is to move everything to the server side.
- Increased use of Linux and increased interested in secure and Trusted Linux solutions.
- Server virtualization. This includes splitting tasks and computing power in a way that utilizes multiple machines and sometimes multiple applications, but in a way that remains transparent to the end user.
- System management often includes coordinating information flow and accessibility across multiple servers.
- IPv6 for Gov will have a significant impact on servers in the years to come.
Most Common Procurement Methods
- Schedule 70 of the Federal Supply Schedule, which is becoming a popular place for commodity server purchases.
- Governmentwide acquisition contracts. These are contracts for Information Technology (IT) that are established by one agency for governmentwide use, meaning they can also be used by other agencies. Traditionall, a GWAC is operated by an executive agent designated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) pursuant to section 5112(e) of the Clinger-Cohen Act. To use GWACs, agencies must first obtain a delegation of authority from the GWAC Program Office. Prime examples of this include Veterans Technology Services contract, or the NASA SEWP contract.
- Department- or agency-specific, multiple-award contracts. These contracts usually have a specific ceiling value (usually multiple billions of dollars) and are designed to include all aspects of systems and professional support services Manay of these are Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts, a type of agreement that provides for an indefinite quantity of supplies or services during a fixed period of time. Minimum and maximum quantity limits are specified in the basic contract as either number of units or as dollar values. The Government uses an IDIQ contract when it cannot predetermine, above a specified minimum, the precise quantities of supplies or services that the Government will require during the contract period.
Popular Operating Systems Used by the Government · Microsoft Windows Server - This server OS has had several increasingly powerful versions over the years. Windows NT evolved into Window 2000 Server, and then Windows 2003 server. The latest server OS, to be released in late 2007 (unless is slips into 2008) is known as Windows Server Vista. Some people also refer to it by its older development name, Windows Longhorn. Others sometimes refer to it as just Windows 2007. Because the government is not always quick to upgrade their systems to the latest and greatest software, some of these versions are still in operation across the government. · Unix - Includes multiple flavors which run on several legacy systems. The Unix OS was originally developed in the 1960s and 1970s by a group of AT&T employees at Bell Labs, and the government was an early user of the OS. There are literally dozens of variants. Some of the most popular are based on BSD, SCO, GNU, Sun OS and Solaris, Posix and more. Even Apple's Mac OS X and beyond is based on Unix. The Linux OS (below) is also based on Unix. · Linux - Linux has enjoyed a very fast rise in popularity across many industries, including the government. It is a key example of free OS software and open source development with a strong community of supporters. It's especially popular because it runs on Intel processors, and because its underlying source code is available for anyone to use, modify, and freely redistribute. · Novell NetWare - Netware was developed by Novell Inc. as a network operating system. Its first uses were cooperative multitasking for services that could run on a PC (examples: file and print services). Its latest versions are very similar to Open Enterprise Server (OES), which may be the future for this product line. But many Netware installations remain in the government. · i5/OS – This operating system evolved out of IBM's popular line of AS/400 servers, which are now called the iSeries. It has a strong history in transaction processing. · z/OS – This is a 64-bit server operating system, also from IBM. It evolved out of the long line of IBM mainframe operating systems, including OS/390. It combines the MVS and UNIX System Services, including a POSIX-compliant mainframe version of UNIX that was once known as MVS Open Edition. · VAX – This 32-bit OS was developed by Digital Equipment Corp. in the late 1970s and became wildly popular through the 1980s and early 90s. But it was eventually out-powered by reduced instruction set computing (RISC) systems. And by PCs, application servers and database servers. VAX systems have not been made since the late 1990s. But some remain in government offices, still running some highly used (and highly respected ) applications. The stalwarts are mostly running the OpenVMS operating system (formerly called VAX/VMS). This is also used for Hewlett Packard's powerful Alpha servers.
Vender-Specific Servers News
The government server market will continue to grow, with most growth happending at the low-end (commodity servers) and the high-end (specialty blade configurations slowly replacing traditional high-end systems.) In the government, high-end systems tend to last for several years, while low-end servers, often used for smaller department-level operations, tend to have a replacement cycle of three to four years.
Interesting development: Sun and the Xenon chip
Sun Microsystems and Intel Corp. have agreed to work together to improve the way Solaris, (Sun's refined and improved version of the Unix operating system) runs on Intel Xeon x86 server systems. Sun has long offered versions of Solaris for Intel x86 servers, but there was not direct cooperation on developing ways to improve Solaris performance specifically on Xeon processors. Sun will also build a group of its own Xeon-based x86 servers.
This page needs to be expanded. If you know about this technology area and how the government buys and uses this technology, please feel free to add to this page. Please make sure that all entries are free from political ideology and that your entries are factual and documented with external references.