Army-tested tips for data center consolidation

The Army IT Agency could serve as a model of success in data center consolidation, at least according to its executive director. So far, it has eliminated more than 30 thousand square feet of data center flooring, reduced the cost of user software licenses by 10 percent, increased processor performance by 40 percent and increased server virtualization capacity by 30 percent, according to Army ITA Executive Director Donald Adcock.

Still, even though its many successes could serve as examples for the rest of the federal government, Adcock said there is still progress to be made.

“As we embark on and continue the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, throughout the Pentagon’s data center footprint, we’re going in and helping the services get rid of redundancy and duplication,” Adcock said. “We’re also trying to put in policy and other driving forces so that we can start [addressing] capacity. We know for a fact that within the building there are racks of servers that are not fully utilized. So we are putting in the process and procedures and the software and equipment we need so that we can start taking efficiencies and utilizing that space.”

There are also challenges in quantifying the savings, at least in a monetary sense, Adcock said.

“It’s a situation that every organization throughout the federal government is going to deal with: quantifying how much we’re saving,” he said. “It’s really hard to say [because] the savings are so second- and third-order effect in the process. Because we have state-of-the-art computing facilities and the way air flow works, we drive down HVAC capacity and use of electric. Then you have to go back and say, ‘Well, how did we track it before? How much did we pay for electric?’ In a building like the Pentagon that’s complex with multiple tenants that control those things, it’s very hard to pull that thread and come up with how much we actually saved, in a dollar amount.”

Adcock said he’s put together a team to identify the right metrics so they can zero in on savings.

“We’re trying really hard to get our hands around it so that we can [quantify] those costs,” he said.

Adcock offered some additional lessons that could augment other agencies’ efforts. Here’s what he said agencies need to succeed.

  • A thorough understanding of what you’re working with. “You need to understand what’s in your environment. You need to inventory it well and get a good understanding of what you have because you have to provide for it in the future environment.”
  • Strong policies. “You need to have robust [policies] throughout the organization that others can use either to say, ‘This is the mission, you have to move to it,’ or to defer to to answer the question of, ‘How do I get there?’”
  • Good service-level agreements. “You have to have a firm understanding, and that’s the service-level agreement — what it is you’re trying to do for your customer — because as you start moving [forward with consolidation], you’ll understand that it is so integrated with your infrastructure, your transport and your data computing centers. They’re so equally tied together that you really have to understand what it is your customer wants from you and how you can deliver on it.”
  • A firm grip on requirements and adequate planning. “You’ve got to understand the requirements. Consolidating into an environment is one thing, but understanding what that future environment looks like, what you’re moving in there, what is the inventory, do you have the policies to enforce it, do you understand what it is your customer expects from you in that future environment — that’s going to drive you. It’s one thing to consolidate, it’s another to know how you’re going to do it and what it’s going to look like. Proper planning upfront can help drive that.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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