Data center consolidation a decade away, report says

The lack of upfront funding and other budget woes could stymie federal agency efforts to reduce the number of data centers in operation across government, according to a new Input report on data center consolidation.

The lack of upfront funding and budget woes could stymie federal agency efforts to reduce the number of data centers in operation across government, according to a new Input report on data center consolidation.

The changes needed to produce a large-scale reduction in an agency’s real estate footprint and other physical structure changes will take a lot of money and time, said Angie Petty, principal analyst with Input's Federal Industry Analysis program and co-author of “Assessment of the 2010 Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.”

The report examines trends and technologies related to the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI), which aims to reduce federal data center infrastructure expenses. These expenses comprise an average of 30 percent of government-wide IT spending and also pose a significant impact on energy consumption.

Agencies face a number of other obstacles and challenges as they approach data center consolidation -- technical obstacles, unrealistic timelines, and cultural and political challenges. As a result, data center consolidation could take a decade for agencies to achieve, according to Input.

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Two-thirds of the data center managers and CIO office executives within federal agencies interviewed by Input said a lack of up-front funding is the biggest obstacle they face, Petty said. That lack of funding limits the amount of things agency IT managers can do, so agencies are using technology refresh cycles to get around that obstacle, she said.

“Unfunded mandates have been cited as the downfall of the 1995 federal data center consolidation initiative, and this time around the White House has again chosen not to set aside additional funding for data center consolidation efforts,” the report states. “Reducing costs is a major goal of consolidation; however, accomplishing it will take substantial upfront investment not only in technology, but also in many cases physical space or structures."

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has asked agencies to take into consideration the entire building in their data center assessments, which would bring financial, facilities and sustainability people into the equation, Petty said. But without proper funding it is difficult for an agency to reduce hundreds of data centers and fold them into a massive data center located in a new geographic region, she said.

Agencies have been striving to reduce their IT footprint for several years through the use of innovative technology, in addition to data center consolidation. Some, such as the Defense Information System Agency and the Postal Service, have already completed major consolidation efforts. Others, such as the Homeland Security and State departments, are in the midst of significant data center consolidation programs.

Most large-scale consolidation initiatives are already underway or at least in the planning stages, according to Input. “However, the lack of funding and adequate planning time and resources for FDCCI present major obstacles to it being the massive, game-changing program that it is intended to be,” the report states.

Instead, FDCCI will encourage agencies to combine smaller server rooms and closets, look to make existing larger data centers more efficient, and accelerate the adoption of solutions such as virtualization and cloud computing, the report states.

In the end, these actions will generate cost savings, or at least stabilization of expenses, in light of rising computing demand from federal users and increasing energy costs, according to the report.

However, the results will likely be incremental reductions in federal real estate and energy consumption, as well as modest cost savings from data center optimization and modernization efforts with virtualization and cloud computing.

The report also provides a detailed overview of federal data center inventories, including central processing unit utilization, power usage effectiveness ratios, and Input projections on the financial impact of consolidation on federal IT budgets over the next five years.