Avoiding Secrecy, Unnecessary Data Center Consolidation in Government

By Jean-Paul Bergeaux
Chief Technology Officer, SwishData

I recently attended an industry and government joint session where the discussion focused on what different agencies are doing in terms of data center consolidation. One of the topics of debate was “what should agencies consolidate?” Should consolidation involve every single computer classified as a ‘data center,’ or is it better to make case-by-case decisions?

The policing approach
One government agency’s policy was that any data on any server must be consolidated, even if it is just a PC sitting under someone’s desk. This description of IT workers going from office to office searching for single server ‘data centers’ to consolidate, made me think of the police raiding houses looking for a bad guy.

The collaborative approach
There is a different approach. In referencing their own policy, another agency’s official said, following a rigid set of requirements might not always yield the best results. For instance, if data is critical to the mission of the agency, it would fall under agency compliance rules and would have to be consolidated. But if it is not, a group could assume responsibility to administer its own data. (As long as it reaches agreement with IT about how to do it.)

Often the people who agree to administer their own data have very proprietary, specific, applications that are not mainstream and can be difficult to assume all responsibility for. - There have been situations where finger-pointing occurred because the original program office had to stay involved in administration of applications its IT team didn’t understand.

Inflexibility causes strains on IT budgets
When consolidating, the agency would have to transfer the budget allocated to those expenses to the IT department. Under ideal circumstances the decision to move some or all applications to IT should be made in cooperation with program offices, however, If offices decide to fight for budgets and win (and they often do), they may find alternate ways to manage data, leaving IT maintaining useless servers without the funds to do so.

Another problem agencies face is the perception that IT departments are slow-moving, rigid and difficult to deal with. This negative customer-service perception has IT admins concerned that an environment that encourages rogue activity could emerge. Admins already struggle with users and groups installing applications on their desktops, not to mention using non-IT funds for public cloud resources. If IT takes away its servers arbitrarily, the internal groups might just move to the cloud or applications without proper authority, creating even more security and administrative nightmares.

A win-win for program offices and IT departments
Because of these issues, some government agencies’ IT departments are deciding to closely collaborate with program offices when deciding what to consolidate. This open and cooperative policy makes internal groups happier, while providing IT a better eye into potential risks and needs across the enterprise. This works to the agencies’ advantage because groups are encouraged to work together instead of consolidating data for consolidation’s sake.

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