Data Centers

OMB underestimates data center numbers

data center

How long has OMB known its estimate of the number of data centers was way off?

If testimony from a Government Accountability Office official posted online July 23 is any indication, the Office of Management and Budget will have some explaining to do before a House Oversight and Government and Reform subcommittee July 25. Lawmakers are likely to ask whether OMB officials recently learned they had severely underestimated the number of federal data centers, or knew their numbers were way off but didn't tell anybody.

The testimony, from GAO Director of IT Management Issues Dave Powner, touches on many critical IT issues, but one particularly eye-catching figure is GAO's finding that 22 of the 24 agencies which are part of the OMB-led Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) now house nearly 6,800 data centers.

That number grew even further during a recent joint House-Senate briefing, when OMB told the Hill there were actually more than 7,000 data centers, a Hill official told FCW.

That's more than double the OMB estimate of 3,133 total federal data centers it has touted publicly since December 2011. An OMB spokeswoman said that after OMB's early estimates, the definition of data centers changed to include smaller server setups. In addition, agencies have gotten better at identifying data centers, she said.

The smaller number appeared most recently in a GAO report on data center consolidation, prepared in April and released at a field hearing of the Subcommittee on Government Operations on May 14.

Officials from OMB and the General Services Administration were invited to testify but did not appear at that hearing. But federal CIO Steven VanRoekel and David McClure, GSA's associate administrator for the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology, are expected to testify at the follow-up hearing July 25.

One question sure to arise on July 25 is how long OMB knew the total number of federal data centers was closer to 7,000 than 3,000. One Capitol Hill official who asked not to be named told FCW it "appears OMB knew there were far more data centers a while back, but were they ever going to tell anyone?"

According to the OMB spokeswoman, FDCCI integration with PortfolioStat, another OMB-led initiative, has provided a more "comprehensive analysis of resources used, efficiencies realized, and also helps us better protect our assets." In addition, she said OMB has expanded the definition of a data center to include centers of "all shapes and sizes."

The broader definition and better tracking explain the bigger total, she said. "The higher number of data centers cited by GAO during the HSGAC hearing on June 11 reflects this change in methodology and improved reporting by agencies, not an increase in the actual number of data centers. Under PortfolioStat, agencies are categorizing their data center populations into core and non-core data centers and examining how optimizing these assets will improve agency mission service delivery."

However the centers are counted, a total of 7,000 federal data centers makes OMB's original goals for FDCCI difficult to attain.

The consolidation initiative was launched by OMB in 2010 with the aim of closing 40 percent, or 1,253, of 3,133 federal data centers across 24 agencies, attaining a cost savings of approximately $3 billion by the end of 2015. Agencies closed 420 data centers by December 2012 and, as of July, planned to reach 968 closings by December 2015 – about 300 short of OMB's goal. If the total is now 7,000 data centers, OMB's goal of 40 percent closures would require consolidating 2,800 of them.

In recent months, OMB has shifted its data center strategy, combining FDCCI with PortfolioStat, another federal initiative, and striving toward data center optimization rather than closures. However, Scott Renda, OMB's cloud computing and FDCCI portfolio manager, speaking at a Northern Virginia Technology Council briefing June 5, said OMB's stated target of closing 40 percent of federal data centers was still part of OMB's plan.

Regardless, GAO and other oversight bodies have been critical of OMB – as well as GSA and the Data Center Consolidation Task Force, which play an oversight role in FDCCI – for its poor leadership and lack of metrics to document cost savings through data center consolidations and closures.

By the end of fiscal 2013, FDCCI will document only $63 million in savings, GAO found, and only one agency – the Department of Defense – has detailed planned savings through fiscal year 2014, expecting to save $575 million.


About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Wed, Aug 7, 2013 Mark Harris California

It really is all about size and definition. A data center could be considered anything that houses a data processing device. It could be a server sitting on a shelf in a back office. It could also be 100,000 square feet or more. It really stems from the definition that each group is using. Key point here: Let's not look site of the goal. It's not just a number of data center game, it's about creating a methodology to advance data processing in the government, while reducing the burdened cost to do work. Cost savings is the goal, and these cost savings are presented in the context of KEEPING the same or better level of service. 3000 or 7000 doesn't really matter. It's about saving some non-trivial number of taxpayer's dollars

Fri, Jul 26, 2013 Peter Marshall DC

It has been my experience in the field that not only each federal agency, but offices within each agency, and even down to the Division level have different definitions for the “Data Centers” proper. Many will define small data processing and IT equipment rooms ranging from 500 square feet to 3,000 square feet as data centers when the dynamics of the facility’s primary systems and spaces allocated to data processing do not have the characteristics of a “Data Center” as the industry defines it. Therefore, OMB in conjunction with all Federal Agencies and IT components need to first gather consensus around definitions and categories of data processing spaces, rooms, and facilities prior to the development of a fed-wide inventory of “Data Centers”. The biggest challenge is getting past senior management who think they are IT savvy and the IT authority within their sphere of control, when in fact their technical experience and understanding of data processing systems, facilities and strategies are limited. It is my guess that once you define the Data Center you will find that the actual numbers of Data Centers (proper) will be down and the number of other IT and data processing spaces/rooms will be up. But until then there will continue to be a disconnect between the truly IT savvy technical engineer and the upper level manager.

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