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These 6 Agencies are Wizards at Closing Data Centers

You shall not pass (with a data center).

You shall not pass (with a data center). // Flickr user Gage Skidmore

The Government Accountability Office’s latest report on data center consolidation suggested the government should be able to save at least $8.1 billion in data center closures through 2019.

GAO officials, however, contend the most important takeaway from the report is that significant savings remain left on the table. In fact, just six agencies are doing such a good job closing and optimizing data centers they’re skewing the data.

To date, the government has closed 3,125 of its 11,000 data centers, leading to $2.8 billion in savings under the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, which was recently superseded by a new policy from the Office of Management and Budget.

It sounds impressive – 3,125 data centers is approximately how many data centers the government believed it had circa 2010. But the inspiring tally is mostly thanks to four agencies: the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior and Treasury. They were responsible for closing more than 2,600 data centers on their own, or 84 percent of all closures through fiscal 2015.

Agriculture, which has outposts all over the country, deserves particular mention, closing down almost 2,000 data centers on its own through October 2015, according to Data.gov. The term “data center” is misleading here, of course, because the mean size of Agriculture’s closed data centers was 30 square feet – the equivalent of a server or two in a broom closet.

Yet, even those servers require administrators and represent unique security challenges. Closing them, as Agriculture has, improves its security posture as well as cuts costs over time as applications and data are migrated to larger centers.

The Defense Department and Treasury both closed approximately 500 data centers by October 2015, while Interior closed 150. The mean square footage reduced by these agencies was substantially larger than Agriculture’s.

Importantly, those closures tended to reap savings.

Of the $2.8 billion saved thus far by all agencies since 2011, $2.4 billion came – again – from four agencies: The departments of Defense, Treasury, Homeland Security and Commerce.

It isn’t surprising that DOD and Treasury, which closed more large-scale data centers than other agencies, ended up saving lots of money.

Yet DHS, by virtue of closing seven data centers larger than 1,000 square feet and approximately 40 total, saved some serious coin. As did Commerce, which closed approximately a dozen data centers greater than 3,000 square feet, including a 30,000-square-foot data center in Camp Springs, Maryland.

If the rest of government copied what these six agencies – Defense, Treasury, DHS, Commerce, Agriculture and Interior – have done in actually adhering to data center consolidation, you have to believe the government would save a whole lot more money.  

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