Data center recount: Bigger problem, tougher solution than previously thought

As if coming up with a consolidation plan to whittle down the number of federal data centers from 1,100 to some smaller, more desirable figure wasn't tough enough, that job will be even harder — and more important — than expected now that we know the government’s rough tally of facilities was off by nearly 1,000.

An Oct. 1 Office of Management and Budget memo on the status of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) states that a more rigorous and standardized inventory of data centers completed July 30 indicates that there are 2,094 federal data centers, not the 1,100 figure that federal CIO Vivek Kundra cited when he launched the initiative in February. OMB said there were 432 centers in 1998.

"We knew that when we came into office, many agencies did not have an accurate accounting of data centers," Kundra told Rutrell Yasin of Federal Computer Week’s sister publication Government Computer News.

Kundra’s rationale for FDCCI — that “the growth in redundant infrastructure investments is costly, inefficient and unsustainable” — can only be strengthened given the newer, much bigger inventory number. It also means it’s a bigger problem to solve, with more technical and operational complexity and more turf to fight over. Some recalibration might be in order.

“If the OMB had a specific target in mind for reducing the number of federal data centers, the latest information on the current number of facilities may have made it completely infeasible,” wrote Jeffrey Clark for the The Data Center Journal.

In a possible preview of the challenges the feds face, Clark mentions the finger-pointing going on in Texas over a troubled contract with IBM to consolidate the state’s data centers. IBM has reportedly blamed the problems on state agencies’ resistance to change and refusal to cede control over their IT assets. Feds can now multiply those issues by 1,000.

It’s not possible to say how FDCCI might change given the new inventory number because agencies' plans have not been made public. They submitted consolidation plans to OMB Aug. 30, and CIO Council agencies are working with OMB to review, adjust and finalize those plans by Dec. 31 so they can be integrated into agencies' fiscal 2012 budget submissions.

Even before OMB made its higher data center count public this month, observers had pointed out the challenges the consolidation plan faces.

In September, market research and consulting firm Input issued a report stating that FDCCI will confront a lack of upfront funding, cultural resistance, political problems, technical difficulties, and tight timelines that restrict solution choices and development.

Others agree. “Given that the OMB is scheduled to approve agency consolidation plans by Dec. 31, it seems unlikely that given the overall short time frame and the complexity of dealing with government culture (including the military) that the submitted plans (filed by Aug. 30) are little more than the simplest physical consolidation plans that could meet the guidelines laid down for the agencies,” wrote David Chernicoff on ZDNet.

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