Federal Agencies Work to Consolidate Data Centers

By Samuel Greengard

Over the last decade, as data growth has proliferated, government agencies have struggled to manage data centers and the costs associated with them. Not surprisingly, consolidation has emerged as a core challenge and one that demands growing attention. The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) is currently about halfway to the goal of shuttering 1,200 data centers by 2015.

A recent MeriTalk study, sponsored by IT solutions provider NetApp, examined U.S. federal government consolidation efforts, which typically deliver benefits, including improved use of IT staff, reduced energy consumption, more efficient computing platforms and better overall security. However, the “FDCCI Big Squeeze” report notes that while consolidation benefits are real, agencies are frequently challenged to demonstrate quantifiable cost savings.

The good news: The report found that 89 percent of agencies have submitted a complete data center inventory, and 86 percent have submitted a complete data center consolidation plan. Respondents estimated that their agencies have shut down an average of 31 data centers as part of the FDCCI efforts.

The bad news: Only 32 percent of agencies reported quantifiable cost savings, and 56 percent graded their agency’s consolidation efforts at ‘C’ or below, while only 20 percent gave themselves an ‘A.’ While 50 percent of federal IT professionals believe that agencies are on track to meet the FDCCI deadline, the remaining 50 percent say that their agencies will likely fall short.

The study found that uncertainty over costs and savings is likely holding agencies back from bigger and broader consolidation efforts. More than half (53 percent) of the respondents said that they are unsure whether the cost of closing data centers will outweigh the cost savings an agency will realize from consolidation. Overall, 48 percent indicated that finding a budget for consolidation projects rated as a top challenge, followed by overcoming mission owner objections (45 percent) and shutting down or consolidating applications (33 percent).

The fact that only 20 percent of IT organizations gave themselves an ‘A’ grade doesn’t bode well. “When IT shops can’t demonstrate hard ROI numbers, it makes it more difficult to defend their position with the mission owners who rely on their services,” explains Mark Weber, president of U.S. Public Sector for NetApp. “If mission owners can’t see exactly what they are getting for the resulting loss of control, they are likely to fight the consolidation effort.

“IT departments do not feel ownership. They feel that data center consolidation is often beyond the control of IT. You would not grade yourself so low if you truly had a sense of authority and ownership to move forward.”

Weber believes it is crucial for mission owners, line-of-business owners and IT executives to agree on a purpose for consolidation programs and establish clear goals up front. Organizations should also consider building dashboards to illustrate savings and, if necessary, identify alternate metrics.

“The government has been making slow progress,” he says, “and the survey identifies a key issue: whether agencies are measuring the right things. It may be time to take a fresh look at programs in order to find ways to demonstrate their real value.”