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5/12/2010
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Government Outlines Data Center Consolidation Goals

Four-fold increases in server virtualization and significant boosts in efficiency and server utilization are aims of the federal data center consolidation effort.

The federal government is aiming through its government-wide data center consolidation effort to increase server virtualization four-fold or more, double or triple the number of virtual machines per host, increase server utilization several times over, and make significant gains in energy efficiency.

While Department of Treasury CIO Michael Duffy said at an event Wednesday morning that those proposed goals -- noted in a PowerPoint slide that was part of his presentation -- are still "notional" and that proposed metrics will likely be changed or supplemented once the government finishes compiling the results of a self-reported data center audit, they help give a sense of the significance of the task the government has ahead of it. "We're going for substantial change in efficiency and utilization of the computing resources we have," he said.

The number of federal data centers has more than doubled to more than 1,100 in the last decade, and many agencies spend a significant amount of time and effort on infrastructure spending, some of it wasted. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has made data center consolidation a key priority to help agencies save IT dollars and be more energy efficient.

The first deadline for laying out the forthcoming plans for the effort passed at the end of April, when agencies were required to submit an initial data center inventory to the Office of Management and Budget. Initial data center plans are due at the end of June, and ongoing monitoring of agency efforts begins next year as data center consolidation plans make their way into agency budgets.

The effort is being headed up by Duffy along with Department of Homeland Security CIO Richard Spires, who was already in the midst of a major data center consolidation of his own when Kundra announced the broader strategy. They have begun to collect best practices to share with other agencies. For example, DHS recently gave a lessons-learned presentation about its own plan to the federal CIO community, and Treasury just last week hosted the United Parcel Service data center director for a talk about the UPS data center strategy.

Duffy said that consolidation efforts would have to be multi-faceted, including decommission, centralization and site consolidation, virtualization, and cloud computing. He also said data center consolidation won't have an across the board impact on every application. "Everyone is going to be much more aggressive with low-impact systems than high-impact systems," he said. Overall, Duffy said, he anticipates budget and internal politics to be among the largest challenges for the effort.

Duffy, meanwhile, has his own challenges. Each of Treasury's 13 bureaus has its own individual data center. The agency spends about $1.5 billion annually on infrastructure, with room to save $200 million of that, according to a benchmarking study the agency performed a few years ago.

Duffy said he spends 60% of his time dealing with infrastructure issues. "That's a bad use of my time," he said. "Through consolidation and by leveraging entities that make it their business to provide infrastructure, I can shift my mind-share to more value-added activities to better facilitate the mission of Treasury."

Treasury is starting down the multi-faced consolidation path itself. For example, it recently decommissioned a few old mail servers that hadn't been doing anything and is inching forward with a virtualization plan at the Internal Revenue Service, which currently houses its master file in an ancient mainframe-based Cobol application.

Duffy has begun to champion the cause of cloud computing as well, and is launching a few cloud computing pilots with an eye toward plans like cloud e-mail. That ride hasn't been entirely smooth -- last week, a Web site hosted by a third party was hacked -- but, Duffy said, "you have to learn from it, apply the lessons and move forward, not retrench."

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