New OMB Data Center Effort Can Help Break Agency Silos

John Minchillo/AP

The federal government faces many of the same challenges experienced in the commercial sector when it comes to implementing "change."

Randy Boggess is head of cloud solutions marketing, global portfolio team at Unify.

The new White House policy for optimizing data centers, as covered by Nextgov earlier this month, has for the most part been well received by government and industry. The Office of Management and Budget Data Center Optimization Initiative supersedes the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative launched by the OMB in 2010, and is designed to advance efforts beyond the physical closing of data centers to IT optimization.

The OMB draft policy also seeks to provide a framework for achieving data center consolidation and optimization by bringing data center guidance in line with the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act, better defining the organizational reporting structure between bureau and agency level chief information officers, and providing metrics for data center optimization. 

Among other things, the policy would require agencies to develop annual data center consolidation plans and emphasize a cloud-first and shared services approach. More specifically, the OMB policy lines up favorably to ongoing agency data center consolidation efforts by providing a formal structure for reporting improvements in:

Cost Savings: Data center consolidation (fewer pieces of real estate); maximum server utilization (better use of resources); and improved energy efficiency (energy savings the green projects).

Schedule Adherence: Poor planning and project management often lead to project overruns, which in turn can result in additional costs and concessions on what is actually delivered. The DCOI effort improves and monitors process here with very good results to date. 

Performance: The cloud-first initiative helps ensure Infrastructure-as-a-Service resources such as compute and network can be better used in shared compute (public cloud environments) wherever possible. Private (dedicated) cloud and hybrid cloud are also approved models advocated wherever possible to maximize resource use and ensure applications and services need the performance needed during peak periods. 

Security: The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program provides the security baseline for all federal government loud environments while data centers with hosted services are still required to support the Federal Information Security Management Act and JITC (Defense Department-specific) criteria at a minimum. 

The federal government faces many of the same challenges experienced in the commercial sector when it comes to implementing "change." This change encompasses not only the technical and operational elements that must be considered, but also the cultural and organizational transformation necessary and that is sometimes most difficult. 

DCOI and FITARA offer a substantive step in the right direction as agencies continue their data center consolidation and IT optimization efforts. By changing the organizational reporting structure where the relationships between bureau and agency level CIOs are improved and all agency-level CIOs are held accountable by the OMB CIO will lead to greater leaps in disrupting business as usual as it relates to federal IT. 

While agencies have made great strides in embracing the cloud and shared services, IT infrastructure remains, to a large extent, relegated to “walled gardens” within agencies. For example, in parallel to data center challenges resulting from many years of a “grow your own IT” approach we have seen a similar story play out with telecom infrastructure.

Customer premises equipment-based acquisitions of phone systems through numerous contract vehicles have not only led to logistical support challenges, but also challenged interoperability. In both instances, a move to standardized and secure cloud-based solutions enables services to become more interoperable at a technical, compliance and security level.

Embracing a cloud-first and shared services approach enables agencies to further break down these silos and realize significant cost and efficiency gains. At the same time, adoption of cloud-enabled emerging technologies such as unified communications and collaboration will position agencies toward successful data center strategies as envisioned by the new OMB initiative.