OMB underestimates data center numbers

Agencies taking part in the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative have more than twice as many data centers as OMB once thought. OMB says better tracking and a broader definition account for the discrepancy.

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.

 

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