Agencies to close 137 data centers and move 100 email systems to the cloud

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra downplayed security concerns about storing government data on privately owned servers.

Federal officials on Wednesday released a list of 137 government data centers slated to close by the end of the year.The information they hold will either be consolidated into other data centers or moved to rented space in a public or private cloud.

Thirty-nine of those data centers already have been shuttered, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra told a gathering of government and industry officials at a White House event Wednesday.

In addition, 15 federal agencies have identified 100 government email systems comprising nearly 1 million individual email users that will be moved from government-owned data storage space to cloud computing, Kundra said.

The General Services Administration will begin accepting bids May 10 on a $2.5 billion contract to manage that move, he said.

Kundra is the author of a December 2010 planto fundamentally reform how the government manages information technology projects. That 25-point plan calls for the government to close about 800 of its more than 2,100 data centers nationwide within five years.

Data centers are essentially rooms filled with computer servers that hold government data and operating systems. They can range from just a few rooms to large complexes. Computer clouds are even larger blocks of computers, usually owned by private companies that rent out server space and typically charge customers only for the amount of space they use, which may fluctuate.

The data centers identified for closure collectively take up more than 350,000 square feet and cost the governments tens of millions of dollars annually in upkeep, staffing and electricity, Kundra said.

"Imagine five-and-a-half football fields filled with servers and networks and routers and switches, consuming energy and requiring cooling," Kundra said, "and it poses a huge cybersecurity threat."

The Health and Human Services Department was spending $1.2 million annually for electricity at one data center in Rockville, Md., that has since closed, Kundra said.

An internal audit showed many federal data centers were underutilized and operated with little oversight. It took several months simply to determine how many federal data centers even existed.

Kundra said Wednesday that the government was using only about 40 percent of the available space in existing data centers and that, on average, data center servers were operating at about 27 percent of their capacity.

The government plans to create an internal marketplace for storage space in the remaining federal data centers so they'll all be operating close to capacity. Other data currently in federal data centers will be moved to the cloud.

The Defense Department is, by far, the largest current owner of federal data centers, with more than 750 of the roughly 2,100 total. Of the 137 data centers planned for closure by 2012, 57, or nearly half, belong to Defense.

Of the 39 centers already closed, NASA owned 13 while Defense owned eight and the Commerce Department owned six. Other data centers were owned by the Interior, State, Transportation and Homeland Security departments, among others.

Kundra noted that closing data centers will become more difficult now that the list of centers is out and the closures can be linked to jobs in particular congressional districts.

In response to an audience question, Kundra downplayed concerns about the security of storing federal data in privately owned clouds, noting that more than 4,700 government technology systems already are being operated by highly certified government contractors.

"For some weird reason, the risks are being overly-hyped," Kundra said. "When you look at cloud computing, you need to make sure on a case-by-case basis, you're evaluating the risks as in any other platform ... Agencies are being very mindful that they're moving to the cloud in a very safe, secure manner rather than just moving haphazardly in that direction."

A private cloud owned by Amazon crashed temporarily last week, taking with it a minor Energy Department website dedicated to sharing clean energy tips. Other federal sites on the Amazon cloud were unaffected.