New data center guidance shifts emphasis from consolidation to optimization

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on FCW.com

The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative has been something of a mixed bag. Launched in 2010 with the goal of saving $5 billion over five years, it has saved significant money and resulted in thousands of facilities being powered down.

But agencies have struggled to meet the initiative's goals and even had trouble determining how many data centers they have. Six years into the effort, a Government Accountability Office report found that the number of identified data centers had grown from 3,100 to nearly 7,500.

So on Aug. 1, U.S. CIO Tony Scott unveiled the final version of FDCCI's successor, the Data Center Optimization Initiative. He said the goal is to bring data center guidance in line with the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA).

In a blog post accompanying the memo on the initiative, Scott wrote that the new policies "include strengthened and direct CIO authority over data center-related budgeting and management decisions, increased use of the cloud and inter-agency shared services, and replacement of manual data collection with more accurate and efficient automated monitoring tools."

Reducing the number of data centers is still a goal. Agencies are expected to close 25 percent of their larger facilities over the next three years and 60 percent of the "server rooms" that are scattered across government. Hitting those targets, Scott wrote, would more than halve the total data center inventory and reduce the total real estate footprint for federal data centers by nearly a third.

As the initiative's name suggests, however, optimization is also an important priority. Agencies have new targets for energy metering, effective power use, virtualization, automated monitoring, and utilization of both servers and facility floor space -- and are expected to hit those goals by the end of fiscal 2018.

The initiative comes with new cost-savings goals as well. The guidance projects $2.7 billion in governmentwide savings by the end of fiscal 2018. Agency-specific goals for cost savings and avoidance will be set by Sept. 1.

Another explicit goal is to encourage the adoption of cloud and shared services. To curtail the continued expansion of on-premises data centers, the new guidance declares that, after Jan. 27, 2017, agencies will be prohibited from budgeting "any funds or resources toward initiating a new data center or significantly expanding an existing data center without approval" from the U.S. CIO's office.

And it makes clear that any room with at least one server that supports development, production, staging or testing services is considered a data center.

To comply with FITARA requirements, the Office of Management and Budget promised to begin incorporating data into the IT Dashboard that tracks agencies' progress toward those goals.

David Powner, the Government Accountability Office's director for IT management issues, told FCW the new initiative was a positive step for the data center consolidation efforts he has long advocated.

"OMB's guidance is consistent with FITARA and will help agencies continue the good progress they have had to date optimizing data centers," Powner said. "The targeted savings seem low compared to what agencies told us, and there needs to be more consistent reporting on savings to OMB and GAO. OMB's requirement to have each individual agency set cost savings goals should help to reconcile these differences."

David Wennergren, the Professional Services Council's executive vice president for operations and technology, was similarly optimistic.

"There are some things to be encouraged about by the memo," said Wennergren, whose government positions included both Navy CIO and Defense Department assistant deputy chief management officer. "It puts explicit targets and metrics and follow-on actions against the broader goal, which is key."

The fact that specific agency plans are required "will be really powerful," he added. "And I like the fact that we continue to highlight the powerful role that cloud solutions can play."

Note: This article was updated on Aug. 2 to add comments from GAO's Powner and PSC's Wennergren.

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 NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com 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, WashingtonPost.com, 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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