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Federal Data Center Closures Will Push Agencies to Retrain IT Staff

RAYSONHO @ OPEN GRID SCHEDULER/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The federal government is going to be shutting down hundreds and perhaps thousands of data centers in the next few years, thanks in large part to cloud migrations and energy efficiency gains. Federal officials say agencies need to start making plans for how they will retrain IT staff that have been running the data centers soon to be closed.

Last week, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officially released the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI), which supersedes the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) that began in 2010. The new initiative, as outlined by federal CIO Tony Scott in an OMB blog post, has many different elements. It will require “agencies to implement strategies to consolidate inefficient infrastructure, optimize existing facilities, improve security posture, achieve cost savings, and transition to more efficient infrastructure, such as cloud services and interagency shared services,” he wrote.

However, a major intended effect of the DCOI is to slash the number of federal data centers in operation, which have ballooned in recent years. As Federal News Radio reported, citing Government Accountability Office (GAO) figures, the number of federal data centers grew to 11,700 by November 2015, up from more than 9,000 in 2014, 2,100 in 2011 and 1,100 in 2009.

Over the course of the three-year DCOI, agencies are required to close at least 25 percent of their tiered data centers (i.e., large data center facilities) and 60 percent of their non-tiered data centers (i.e., server rooms). Scott noted that the closures will amount to about 52 percent of the overall federal data center inventory and a reduction of roughly 31 percent in the real estate footprint occupied by data centers governmentwide.

But shuttering all of those data centers and server rooms means that agencies will need to find useful duties for the IT managers, technicians and other staffers who have worked inside of them. And that will likely require significant amounts of retraining.

Data Centers Set to Be Shuttered

As FedScoop reported, federal officials have urged that a focus be placed on retraining. The officials were panelists at the ATARC Federal Cloud Computing Summit in Washington, D.C.

According to a March GAO report, as of November 2015, the 24 agencies participating in the FDCCI had identified a total of 10,584 data centers and reported closing 3,125 through fiscal year 2015. The report found that 84 percent of the closings came from just four agencies: the departments of Agriculture, Defense, the Interior and the Treasury. The report also noted that that agencies plan to shutter an additional 2,078 data centers by the end of fiscal year 2019.

There are some clearly evident ways in which DCOI will lead agencies to cut or repurpose data center jobs. For example, the policy states that “agencies shall replace manual collections and reporting of systems, software, and hardware inventory housed within data centers with automated monitoring, inventory, and management tools (e.g., data center infrastructure management) by the end of fiscal year 2018.”

Long term, the policy states that “all agencies should continually strive to close all nontiered data centers. Server rooms and closets pose security risks and management challenges and are an inefficient use of resources.” And although DCOI requires at least 60 percent of nontiered data centers to be closed before the end of fiscal year 2018,

“OMB expects that agencies will consider all such facilities as temporary and work to close them.”

Retooling IT Skills as Data Centers Close

With those mandates in mind, Melonie Parker-Hill, division chief of the Enterprise Operations Center at the State Department, said at the ATARC Summit that “we look at retraining staff members and retraining ourselves.”

As FedScoop noted, Parker-Hill runs operations for the State Department’s domestic data centers, and said initiatives like DCOI usually ruffle feathers in terms of both personnel and how processes get done.

“You’re going to have people resisting because, ‘I don’t know about this, you’re trying to take my data center, you’re trying to take my job,’ ” Parker-Hill said, according to FedScoop. Parker-Hill emphasized that DCOI is not designed to eliminate jobs but to make data centers and the government more efficient.

Dominic Sale, deputy associate administrator for the Information Integrity and Access Office at the General Services Administration, also said agencies should invest in retraining data center staff members, according to FedScoop.

“There’s this sense I get that some in the community feel like what we have here needs to be enacted on from outside, and in that if we’re going to fix federal IT it’s got to come from Silicon Valley,” Sale said. If agencies spent half as much time and money retraining existing IT workers as it did on recruiting new staff, Sale said, “we would be in a whole different situation right now.”

Agencies need to accept that some of their IT staff members do need skills retraining.“Everyone is going to need to adapt those skill sets — this is a management, human resources effort,” Sale said. “We should think about all of the things that we still need to do from an IT perspective and retrain our folks, versus thinking of them as obsolete when the data center closes.”

This content is made possible by FedTech. The editorial staff of Nextgov was not involved in its preparation.

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