Data Centers

Why nobody knows how much data center consolidation is saving

Shutterstock image of a data center.

How much money can the federal government save through data center consolidation? The question seems simple enough, but the answer is anything but.

A September GAO report estimated $1.1 billion dollars in savings by the end of fiscal 2015. But even the author of that report isn't sure that's right.

"Putting it in the ballpark of potential savings to date, we're just getting started," Dave Powner, GAO's director of IT management issues, report, told FCW.

One of the problems, according to Powner, is that agencies use different ways to count savings.

Agencies are supposed to use a cost-estimation model supplied by the Office of Management and Budget, but it is clear not all agencies are considering the same costs. The report recommended that agencies utilize the existing PortfolioStat review sessions in order to identify data center consolidation cost savings opportunities

Other experts similarly question the consistency of reporting, metrics and cost-estimation models.

The upshot, however, is a little different than most examples of dicey government accounting. In this case, the outcome could be positive.

GAO found that 21 agencies reported planning an additional $2.1 billion in cost savings and avoidances by the end of fiscal 2015, for a total of about $3.3 billion -- which is roughly $300 million higher than OMB's original $3 billion goal.

Anthony Robbins, vice president of federal at Brocade, said even that understates what could be accomplished.

"The federal government could be far more aggressive in this area," Robbins said. He pegged potential savings at "more than $10 billion" if agencies adopted commercial best practices to the extent that they're able, allowing them to close far more data centers at a far greater speed.

And if results are not forthcoming, Congress might step in.

"The report reinforces my concern that more than four years after the launch of the [Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative], we are losing sight of the initial long-term strategic goals of the initiative," Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a statement following the GAO report's release. Those goals include "promoting 'Green IT,' reducing operational costs, enhancing IT security, and transitioning IT investments into more efficient computing platforms, such as cloud computing."

Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) are pushing a data center consolidation bill in the Senate, and provisions of the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act -- which could see the light of day during the coming lame-duck session -- also address the issue.

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

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