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Congress requires Homeland Security's data center to go green

In the funding bill for the Homeland Security Department that it passed on Thursday, the House restricted more than half of the nearly $83 million budget for a massive data center until DHS develops ways to ensure there is enough power to sustain operations.

The fiscal 2010 Homeland Security appropriations bill requires the department to spend $38.5 million to upgrade the power capabilities at the National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage, known as Data Center One and based at NASA's Stennis Space Center, near the Gulf Coast in Mississippi. Homeland Security cannot spend the remaining $45 million on building out the data center, which will provide information processing for the entire department, until DHS officials can make certain the data center has enough power and uses green technologies to reduce demand.

"None of the funds provided . . . shall be used for data center development other than for Data Center One until the chief information officer certifies that Data Center One is fully utilized as the department's primary data storage center at the highest capacity throughout the fiscal year," according to the conference report that accompanies the bill.

The Senate has yet to vote on the conference appropriations bill.

The Navy is acting as a co-contractor and program manager for the data center, which will create unusually high demands on the electrical power supply for the facility. "One of the challenges of the [Stennis data center] is the amount of power coming into the facility combined with the amount of power coming into the Navy base," said Pat Schambach, general manager of homeland security programs at Computer Sciences Corp., the prime contractor that operates Data Center One for DHS. "The facilities were never designed to have the power that data centers require."

In July 2008, DHS awarded a $390 million contract to CSC to operate the center and the contractor officially took over operation three months later.

Data Center One is partially filled, with five of the department's 24 data centers having been migrated to Stennis. The appropriations bill requires DHS to figure out how to improve power efficiency before it migrates any other data centers.

"As it gets more filled, the power requirement will climb," Schambach said. "Someone on the Hill is smartly trying to say, 'Let's not have the lack of power at the building be a roadblock to getting more capacity into that building.' The recommendations are exactly what needs to be done, [and] as a former CIO [at the Transportation Security Administration] and as a taxpayer, I'm happy with that direction."

DHS will spend the $38.5 million appropriated for the power upgrades in four phases on electrical service and equipment, generators and chilling mechanisms, and information technology, according to FedSources, a consulting firm based in McLean, Va.

The department also is considering strategies to better leverage power, including cloud computing, which would allow e-mail, collaboration and content management software, and other applications to be offered as a service departmentwide.

"The idea is to not only fill up the data center, but to do it in a smart way by leveraging the gear as much as we can to control demand," Schambach said. "The $38 million is to make sure there's enough power supply coming in, and we're trying to help DHS use that power smartly."

Schambach credits Richard Spires, recently appointed as Homeland Security CIO, for supporting such enterprisewide initiatives. "The question is, what are his priorities and is the whole data center strategy part of what he wants to push?" he asked. "So far his answer has been yes."

Electronic Data Systems, which Hewlett-Packard purchased last year, owns and manages a second data center for DHS that mirrors the one at Stennis. Data Center Two, as it's called, "has all the power it needs," Schambach said, with two power supplies coming into the facility from two providers, as well as a power plant across a river that acts as a third source.

The ultimate goal for DHS is to consolidate all 24 data centers into the two locations by 2013.

"As we build out, we have to ensure that the building itself has the power requirements, the rack space, the proper servers," said DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie. "This is a gradual process."

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