Funding, self-awareness stymie consolidation efforts
Agencies lack self-awareness to fully achieve consolidation
No one doubts the final intent of the Obama administration’s data center consolidation plan, which is to drastically reduce the cost of government IT and make it work much more efficiently. However, there's plenty of doubt about whether agencies have a good handle on what’s needed to make that happen and on the costs involved.
Some of the concerns are specific. For example, a recent article in Federal Computer Week pointed out the potential for large hidden costs involved with the need to rework software applications to work on newly consolidated platforms. Some people believe the costs could be high enough to be a deal breaker.
It’s not just a case of the costs involved with reworking the code, said Iron Bow Technologies' Jim Smid. Agencies don’t have a good handle on what applications they have and how they work together.
“There’s an overall lack of inventory of applications in agency data centers and a lack of understanding of the interdependencies of those apps and of the overall complexity of the data center environment,” he said. “If you do consolidation without identifying all of that upfront, there’s a big chance you’ll break mission-critical applications.”
If consolidation is to be done correctly and if enabling technologies such as virtualization are to be effective, individual agencies need to thoroughly analyze their portfolio of physical assets and applications and understand where they can make the savings, said Gartner’s Massimiliano Claps.
“I made that point recently to an agency that wants to do some consolidation, and I told them they needed a baseline of current performance to identify where they are now and where they wanted to be in five years,” he said. “Unfortunately, that lack of performance management culture is a pitfall that’s very common in government.”
A MeriTalk survey published in June gave a stark summary of where government agencies are with consolidation projects. Most don’t know where they are or where they are going, the survey of 157 federal IT decision makers found. About 77 percent did not even know what the Power Use Effectiveness, a basic measure of energy consumption, was across their data centers.
Given that, there’s no surprise that the survey found that most agencies also have no idea when they will arrive at their consolidation targets.
“For the past several years, people have simply been counting data centers, which at least means that agencies are beginning to look at what they are doing,” said Mark Weber, president of the U.S. Public Sector at NetApp, a storage solutions vendor and sponsor of the MeriTalk survey. “But that’s all people are doing. They are not measuring the effectiveness of their data center use so they can understand where the potential savings and efficiencies are.”
Agency IT departments are not doing the measurements because they haven’t had to, Weber said, and they don’t see the urgency because they feel they have the resources they need to do their jobs. The administration has provided a mandate, but so far it hasn’t described any incentives for agencies to push ahead with consolidation.
In fact, it might be doing the opposite. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has said most of the consolidation efforts could be financed from existing agency budgets and the savings they’ll realize through consolidation. However, the agencies say they’ll have to pay out at least something from the outset, and they fret about where the money will come from.
Those upfront costs were the No. 1 concern that agencies cited in a survey Input did in summer 2010.
Other concerns were mentioned, said Angie Petty, a principal analyst at Input. Technology challenges include such things as servers that are too old and slow to virtualize; cultural problems include server huggers in agencies who don’t want to lose machines; and political concerns include data center closures around the country that will see jobs cut.
“But, with the budget crunch agencies face and the fact that they aren’t being given any new money to do consolidations, those upfront costs were the top problem for all of them,” Petty said.
Another MeriTalk survey earlier in 2011 found that 41 percent of the agencies polled felt they had a good idea of the costs involved with consolidation, but 40 percent said they didn’t have the budget to fund their consolidation programs.
However, 82 percent of the IT executives surveyed remained confident their agencies would meet the FDCCI’s 2015 targets.
So, the FDCCI should be seen as a good beginning, said Iron Bow’s Smid, but only that.
“It’s a well-intentioned mandate, but we need more than that to move things forward,” he said. “If funding doesn’t follow, it won’t happen.”