Data centers

Is data center consolidation losing steam?

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In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget championed the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative as the means to close 40 percent of the government's data centers and save $5 billion by 2015.

Along the way, the effort faced major snags. Savings were lower than expected, the number of identified data centers doubled in 2013, and OMB was slow to release metrics and demonstrate leadership. The problems have left some observers wondering whether data center consolidation has more bark than bite.

"I feel as a business partner to government that the data center closing initiative is losing steam," Anthony Robbins, vice president of Brocade's federal business, told FCW.

"They are talking more about optimization of assets and data center optimization and improving utilization and all these other things," he said. "But I think and believe -- and industry believes -- that a more aggressive approach to data centers can save more money over time."

At FDCCI's inception, the government's goal was to close or consolidate 1,200 of nearly 3,100 identified data centers. Robbins said the approach was not aggressive enough.

In recent years, large commercial companies such as Hewlett-Packard have closed dozens of smaller data centers in favor of several centralized centers, while simultaneously improving IT security and reducing energy footprint and personnel costs. Robbins said the government "wasn't consistent with commercial best practices" when it touted 40 percent consolidation rates as a goal.

In mid-2013, the Government Accountability Office revealed the existence of more than 7,000 federal data centers, which compounded the government's dilemma. About 640 data centers have been shut down, with another 470 scheduled to close by September. To reach the goal of closing 40 percent of federal data centers, 2,400 would have to be closed.

That seems an unlikely or even impossible goal to reach by 2015. But Robbins said the government should aspire to close far more.

Approximately 6,000 of the government's data centers are what OMB defines as noncore, and Robbins said keeping all those centers is a waste of resources. OMB began to emphasize optimization over closings in early 2013, but changing the message does not get the government any closer to realizing its savings goals. Robbins said a more aggressive, transparent approach to data center consolidation might do the trick.

"They should be taking the number of data centers to less than 1,000," Robbins said. "There is no way you need 1,000 data centers to support the business of government."

At the end of fiscal 2013, FDCCI had documented about $63 million in savings, and only one agency -- the Defense Department -- had projected its savings through fiscal 2014. DOD officials said they expect to save approximately $575 million, and GAO officials believe several billion in IT efficiencies are waiting to be saved because data centers are so expensive. Beyond the cost of the buildings, the electric bills are enormous: Data centers consume an average of 100 times more energy than office buildings of comparable size.

Furthermore, the human element cannot be discounted. No one wants to give up data, and it seems everyone wants his or her own server. There's also the uncomfortable fact that when data centers close, administrators and other IT employees lose their jobs.

"The human dynamic is more important than the technology sometimes," Robbins said. "People are either accepting or resisting change that ultimately drives this. People want power and control because they own [the] budget or it is their job or team" on the line.

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Reader comments

Wed, Mar 26, 2014 Paul

The comments are always about energy and personnel but I never hear or read anything about service, performance, capability increasing or even remaining the same. There is also an issue on how the government defines data centers. That is an issue as well. I am not convinced that centralizing provides my organization benefit conisdering another enterprise implementation that still is not going well...

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