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10/30/2013
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GSA Streamlines IT Operations, Closes Data Centers

Agency CIO says closure of 37 data centers and centralization of IT operations will improve efficiency within GSA and in serving other federal agencies.

The General Services Administration has closed 37 noncore data centers and plans to consolidate all IT resources in a new centralized IT office under the supervision of the GSA CIO, the agency said Tuesday.

The data center consolidation, prompted partly by a 2010 Office of Management and Budget mandate will help GSA avoid real estate costs, drive down energy consumption, boost efficiencies and improve the services it provides to other federal agencies, GSA officials said.

A parallel effort is also underway to streamline the agency's IT organization by consolidating IT offices and staff under the direct control of GSA CIO Casey Coleman, according to a GSA statement. In addition, all IT contracts will fall under the control of the new GSA IT office.

The streamlining effort will reduce costs by eliminating certain redundancies, such as having CIOs for individual business lines and having IT staff report to different program offices, GSA officials said. A central IT office is expected to provide agency personnel and program offices better overall access to technology services, GSA officials said.

[ Are Obamacare site bugs something to be proud of? See Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT. ]

"Closing data centers are an important part of GSA's efforts to shrink the federal footprint," Coleman said in a statement. The consolidation, coupled with the agency's move to streamline IT operations "using technology to do more with less ... will make us a model of how to provide the kind of efficient, effective and transparent service that the American people expect from their government," she said.

The closing of just over three dozen data centers in fiscal 2013, which is roughly one-third of the agency's noncore data centers, was "an aggressive goal," GSA officials said. Lawmakers hammered GSA during a House subcommittee hearing in July on why the agency had closed only one data center at the time. Officials explained the agency was still reviewing which data centers to close to minimize the impact on GSA operations.

In addition to the data centers closed in fiscal 2013, the agency said it would close 37 other noncore data centers by the end of fiscal 2014.

The shuttering of GSA's noncore data centers is part of a three-year-old Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDDCI) that aims to reduce the number of duplicative and underused data centers by 40% by 2015.

The government-wide data center consolidation initiative aims to reverse the growth of federal data centers -- and associated costs of hardware, software and operations -- that until 2010 went unchecked. Through data center consolidation, the federal government believes it will be able to migrate to more efficient computing platforms, improve IT security and move closer to achieving its "Green IT" goals.

A Government Accountability Office report released in July stated that the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the FDCCI effort, had grossly underestimated the number of data centers in the federal inventory. Rather than having slightly more than 3,100 data centers, the 24 FDCCI agencies actually have more than 7,000.

The discrepancy stemmed from the definition of what constituted a data center facility as set forth in FDCCI, top federal IT officials involved in the effort told the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations in the wake of the report's publication.

Previously, a data center had to measure 500 square feet or more to be subject to FDCCI. But OMB did not grasp until this year that more than 70% of federal agency data center assets are less than 500 square feet, and in many cases, smaller than 100 square feet, the federal IT officials told lawmakers.

The result was that some agencies divided up data center resources and put them in smaller spaces to avoid being counted, or they combined adjacent data centers into one, the federal IT officials testified. By doing so, agencies would be able to report that they were meeting the administration's goals, but not significantly improve use, which was the intent of FDDCI.

These findings led OMB officials earlier this year to divide data centers into two groups: core and noncore. Core data centers are ones that are deemed fundamental to agency operations and must meet specific performance criteria. Noncore data centers, the ones which are the target of the government's closure goal, fall outside of that definition.

GAO officials told Congress that, while the change to the definition was the right step to take, more effective steps are necessary to achieve the FDCCI savings goal of $3 billion.

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