Culture, management issues continue to affect consolidation efforts

Technology is not the limiting factor, experts say

The success of data center consolidation initiatives will be determined more by culture and management issues than by technology, according to federal managers and industry experts speaking at a recent conference on data center optimization.

Federal managers addressed issues of cost, culture, management and information technology related to data center consolidation and shared best practices at an event sponsored by the Government Information Technology Executive Council and AFFIRM on Sept. 16 in Washington, D.C.

Fifteen years ago, GITEC led government data center consolidation efforts by representing the needs of data center managers. Those efforts did not achieve all of the promised results. Now, as the number of federal data centers has mushroomed from 432 in 1998 to 1,100 today, the Office of Management and Budget has embarked on yet another initiative to reduce the government’s data center footprint. Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra is leading the charge.

The government has the ability and skill to manage data centers, said John Ortego, president of Ortego & Associates, who served as director of the Agriculture Department’s National Finance Center from 1997 to 2003.

“Data centers adopt children -- contractors, government employees and political constituencies.” Ortego said, outlining the political hurdles that could hinder consolidation and the closing of data centers in certain geographic regions.

As agencies step into consolidation, managers should not seek cover under the most recent OMB mandates. Instead, they should look to move and consolidate where it is in the best interest of the government, Ortego said.

Data center consolidation is a cultural change, he noted.


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Officials at the National Institutes of Health expect they will become very familiar with some of those cultural issues, said Adriane Burton, director of the division of computer system services within NIH’s Center for Information Technology.

NIH has 22 institutional centers and numerous server rooms that will have to be a part of the consolidation efforts. NIH has submitted its data consolidation plan as part of the Health and Human Services Department’s overall plan, Burton said.  Agencies had to submit data center consolidation plans to OMB on Aug. 31.

NIH has a few traditional data centers and offers centralized computing services for administrative systems, collaboration, e-mail and high-performance computing. But for the most part, the institutional centers operate their own computing environments. It will be a challenge from a human resources perspective dealing with the different cultures within each center, Burton said.

Agency managers might also find that they are investing more money to consolidate data centers, which might seem at odds with the goals of reducing IT and electricity costs and promoting more efficient IT operations.

However, agencies have to consider the enhanced services they can offer to their users, said Charles De Sanno, executive director of enterprise infrastructure engineering and enterprise operations for the Veterans Affairs Department.

VA embarked on a data center consolidation initiative in 2004 to gain better control of IT operations. Later, the focus of consolidation was on implementing disaster recovery capabilities. Disaster recovery drove up costs because it was a function that VA didn’t have before, he said.

Time, labor and costs associated with moving data centers are key elements of any plan, said Paul Hallowell, deputy director of computing services for the Defense Information Systems Agency.

“You don’t want to consolidate for consolidation's sake,” Hallowell said. “You have to think about the actual costs of migration.”

Agency managers have to demonstrate value of data center consolidation to their business units, said Michael Brown, executive director of IT services within the Office of the Chief Information Officer in the Homeland Security Department.  Managers have to explain that the move won’t harm them and what’s in it for them, he said.

DHS is on track to move 24 data centers into two large-scale centers by 2014. One data center, located at NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, is managed by Computer Sciences Corp.; the other is located in southern Virginia and hosted by Hewlett-Packard. To date, DHS has moved 5 data centers into the new facilities.

For agency IT managers, Brown gave some lessons learned based on DHS’ experiences:

  • Assess your inventory. Know what you have in your environment.

  • Understand what you are spending because you will be asked how much you saved.

  • Centralize operational control – if you don’t, consolidating data centers will be hard.

  • Agree on priority of effort. Are you doing geography, platform or applications? “You can do all three but it will be challenging” Brown said. DHS has focused on geography, and will do application and platform consolidation where it makes sense.

  • Construct service offerings that look like commercial offerings because one size does not fit all. Everything is negotiable.

  • Institute performance-based contracting because service-level agreements are important

  • Have a well-oiled cost recovery mechanism.

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Reader comments

Mon, Sep 20, 2010

A well done consolidation is a good thing. But an outsourced consolidation can be a major pain, if the contract is not well written and enforced. We have been changing data centers every couple of years, because of less than adequate service levels. This churn, along with being expensive, has a major impact on mission capability, much less doing any major program changes. Try to pick a solution and stick with it, at least through one hardware refresh cycle.

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