Managers doubtful about meeting data center consolidation goal

Survey finds just 10 percent of IT execs think the government will be able to streamline as much as it plans in the next four years.

Only 10 percent of federal information technology managers think the government will be able to reach its goal of shutting down roughly one-third of its nearly 2,100 data centers over the next four years, according to a recent survey.

Nearly one-quarter of those officials think there will be more data centers by 2015 rather than fewer, according to the survey conducted by MeriTalk, a government IT industry group, for Juniper Networks, an IT vendor.

The online survey was completed by 200 federal executives at the IT manager level or higher, and had a margin of error of about 7 percent. All the respondents were familiar with their agencies' data center consolidation plans, MeriTalk said.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra has said consolidating data centers will save the government $3 billion over five years. Information and programs currently held in data centers slated for closure would be moved into remaining data centers or to more nimble cloud computing, according to Kundra's plan.

Kundra expects the cloud transition to save the government about $5 billion annually once it's up and running.

Federal executives surveyed by MeriTalk, though, thought those consolidation plans would be scuttled by an overall increase in government computing needs and by an inability to trim and standardize the software systems agencies use.

Software systems fit somewhat like Tetris blocks inside data center servers. Fewer differences among systems allow more tightly packed servers, less wasted space, and fewer servers and data centers. One of the constraints of cloud computing storage is in order to pack data more tightly, clouds can operate only a limited number of software platforms.

About half of respondents to the MeriTalk survey said their agencies were running more than 20 management software applications and more than 60 percent said they didn't think it made sense to farm out their computing needs to a private or public cloud service provider or to another agency with spare data center capacity.

Survey respondents expect their agencies' computing needs to rise by 37 percent on average over the next five years, requiring a 34 percent jump in storage capacity.

The most significant roadblocks to consolidation, executives said, are complying with security requirements, avoiding a disruption in applications' performance, securing funding for the transition and training new staff.

The path to streamlining data centers will become clearer once agencies have completed the final versions of their consolidation plans, due Oct. 7, Kundra's office has said. Those plans will include a complete list of all facilities slated to be shut down through 2015 along with final figures on their current data center inventories, organized by hardware, software, land use, energy consumption and other metrics.

A Government Accountability Office report released last week faulted agencies and the Office of Management and Budget for not gathering enough data about consolidation on the front end and fretted that the dearth of data would lead to inefficiencies later on.

As of April, agencies had earmarked about 650 of the 800 data centers to be shuttered and had fully identified only about $700 million in savings, according to the GAO report, which was released to congressional requestors July 19.

Those projected savings didn't include major areas of possible savings such as reduced equipment use and GAO did not suggest Kundra's $3 billion savings figure is unreasonable.

Only one of 23 affected agencies had made a full inventory of its data centers -- including hardware assets, software assets, storage capacity, energy use and real estate -- at the point the GAO report was completed. That was the National Science Foundation, which has two data centers that it plans to pare down to one.

Most other agencies had completed at most half the inventory sections. The Defense Department, which owns 772 of the government's current 2,094 data centers -- and plans to shutter 240 of them -- had not completed any of the inventory sections.

Only five of the 23 agencies had conducted a cost-benefit analysis of their consolidation plans, according to the report.

Kundra plans to leave office in August to take a fellowship at Harvard University. President Obama has yet to name his successor.