Opinion

The key to successful IT consolidation efforts

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently issued failing grades to several agencies for their implementation of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act. The news comes at a time when agency progress on data center consolidation and IT portfolio management has never been so scrutinized.

During a recent panel discussion, federal IT executives expressed differing views on the progress, benefits, challenges and future of those efforts. They agreed that agencies have made significant progress in the past few years, which has led to benefits that include lower costs and more efficiency, availability and security.

"Since fiscal year 2011, we've closed 41 data centers," said Zach Goldstein, CIO at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "According to the [Office of Management and Budget] model, we've avoided future costs of $145 million."

Tony McMahon, deputy director of enterprise computing centers at the IRS, said, "One of the things we've been focusing on is high availability and security.… People want the systems available all the time. We have to shut down our servers a couple of times per year [for maintenance], so now, rather than bringing those systems down, we actually just move them from one site to the other."

However, one of the greatest benefits of data center consolidation can be getting an accurate inventory of applications. With that information, agencies can better manage their applications and link them back to the overall mission.

"We're actually identifying the applications now and quantifying the applications and where they are," Air Force CTO Frank Konieczny said. "This is a big deal because we know what we have, finally."

Once an agency can connect its mission objectives to what is running on the hardware and understand which applications tie into which mission priorities, officials can make significant progress in securing what is most critical to the agency.

Goldstein said that at NOAA, "if the function being supported by the data is a primary mission-essential function -- in other words, American lives are at risk if we don't get it right -- that data is going into a private cloud."

He went on to say, "What we mean by that is a single tenant. It doesn't mean that [the cloud] has to be run by the government, but it's just us there. The other functions can be in a community cloud for low-level or non-mission-essential functions."

It is clear that several benefits are coming out of agency consolidation efforts, with greater efficiency in managing data at the forefront. Agencies are adopting best practices in cloud computing, and they are taking advantage of elastic computing, shared storage and services, and in-memory computing, all of which allow them to better scale and do more with fewer people.

The advancements of the past few years are only the beginning, according to the panelists. The future includes more focus on digital services and mobility.

Konieczny reinforced the focus on mobility by saying, "We're going to get into a mobile force pretty quickly now, where everybody has phones, [tablets], you name it. We have to have connectivity across the board...but you can't just put an application in one data center. We're going to get to the point where we'll have them in multiple data centers, linked with data."

Clearly, the future of data consolidation will rely heavily on continued and accurate IT portfolio management. It won't just be about knowing where an agency's hardware and applications are, but having the visibility and understanding of where and how IT is supporting the mission so that leaders can ensure that IT initiatives and investments support the agency into the future.

About the Author

Chris Steel is chief solutions architect at Software AG Government Solutions.

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