Nearly Every Agency Missed Their Data Center Optimization Goals, Watchdog Says

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Only two of 22 agencies expected to hit all five of OMB’s optimization benchmarks by the end of 2018.

Nearly every federal agency failed to meet the White House’s goals for optimizing their data centers in 2018, a congressional watchdog found.

The government has for years worked to consolidate its sprawling IT ecosystem and ensure the facilities that remain are being used efficiently. While agencies are making progress in scaling back their physical infrastructure, their optimization efforts have largely fallen flat, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Under the Data Center Optimization Initiative launched in 2016, the Office of Management and Budget laid out five metrics for measuring the efficiency of government data centers—server utilization, energy metering, power usage, facility utilization, and virtualization—and set targets for agencies to meet by 2018. By forcing the government to use its facilities more effectively, OMB aimed to drive down operating costs and improve security.

But as of August, not a single agency had met goals in all five categories, GAO said in a report published Thursday. Ten of the 22 departments given optimization goals failed to meet a single benchmark.

Two agencies—the Commerce Department and U.S. Agency for International Development—said they were on track to hit the benchmarks by the end of the year, but GAO officials haven’t followed up to see if they succeeded, according to Carol Harris, who led the audit.

“The 20 agencies that did not have plans to meet their targets call into question whether [the Data Center Optimization Initiative] will realize its full potential savings,” the report said. Agencies’ shortcomings stemmed at least partly from ignoring GAO recommendations for optimizing data centers, auditors said.

In March 2016, GAO advised agencies to address multiple management and procurement issues that could hinder their data center optimization efforts, but only four fully implemented the recommendations, according to the report.

Despite their optimization struggles, agencies have made slow but steady progress in closing their physical data centers in recent years. Sixteen agencies said they had either met or planned to meet OMB’s goals for closing tiered data centers by the end of 2018, and 14 anticipated reaching consolidation targets for non-tiered data centers.

All said, the government shuttered 6,250 of its 12,116 data centers between 2010 and August 2018, with another 1,200 scheduled to be closed by the end of the year, according to GAO.

Data center optimization remains one of the most consistent struggles for agencies looking to modernize their IT infrastructure. On the most recent FITARA scorecard, only four agencies—the Education and Housing and Urban Development departments, NASA and USAID—received ‘A’s for their implementation of OMB’s data center optimization strategy. That figure is even less impressive when you consider that neither HUD nor Education operate any physical data centers, according to GAO.

But according to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who chairs the House Oversight subpanel that governs federal IT, agencies’ optimization struggles may stem more from insufficient effort than any technical challenges.

“[The] GAO report confirms that some agencies are again trying to run out the clock on taking the necessary steps to close or optimize their data centers,” he told Nextgov. “This is unacceptable and costly. By choosing inaction over the planning and action necessary to consolidate and close additional data centers, agencies are missing an opportunity to realize efficiencies and cost savings.”