IT Modernization

The stubborn persistence of government data centers

Servers in a data center 

The federal government's Cloud Smart strategy is the latest in a years-long series of efforts to shrink and streamline agencies' data center footprints. Whether the emphasis is on optimization or elimination, however, depends on the agency.

"I have told my staff, we have bought our last set of hardware," U.S. Marshals Service CIO Karl Mathias said at FCW's Aug. 14 cloud event. "I have no data centers. I'm located in two FBI data centers, with some hardware that I don't intend to refresh."

The Department of Justice as a whole is also moving aggressively to shutter its data centers. Deputy CIO Melinda Rogers, who also spoke at the Aug. 14 event, said DOJ has closed 95 facilities to date, and plans to close 12 more by the end of 2020. But three "core enterprise facilities" remain central to the department's IT infrastructure, along with a suite of commercial cloud solutions.

The State Department is taking a similar approach. Cloud Program Management Office Deputy Director Brian Merrick said "there are places where [cloud] just isn't feasible. There are some things that will stay on-prem for the foreseeable future."

That's partly due to the security and connectivity challenges that come with State's globe-spanning operations, Merrick said, but it also reflects the decentralized ownership of the department's IT. The business unit leaders own many of the applications and the funding behind them, he said. "They're the drivers for it. So we're not telling them which ones to do first -- we're enabling them to pick what they want to do and make better decisions around that."

And at Department of Homeland Security, "we're committed to hybrid IT," said Kshemendra Paul, DHS' cloud action officer and deputy director for strategy and mission. "We'll always have a data center."

However, DHS is working to close one of its two central data centers (DC2) when the contract expires in 2020, Paul said, and is ensuring that the recompete for the other (DC1) will reflect component agencies' shifting needs. That solicitation is expected in "late fall or early winter," he added, joking: "So just about the time you're ready to go on Christmas vacation."

Cloud's share of the workload is increasing, he noted -- nearly 300 of DHS' 661 FISMA systems are headed to cloud, and 67 are already operational there. But "components are leading the way," Paul said, and different missions move at difference paces, so "we're not trying to implement a centralized approach."

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN, as well as General Manager of Public Sector 360.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of, Schneider also helped launch the political site in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times,, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.


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