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Feds Plot Data Center Consolidation

A survey will analyze the government's 1,100-plus data centers, counting racks, servers, routers, and switches.

The federal government has begun a 6-month study of its data centers in an effort to benchmark them as it embarks on a major government-wide data center consolidation effort, federal CIO Vivek Kundra said Friday.

The survey will analyze the federal government's 1,100-plus data centers at a deep level, counting racks, servers, routers, and switches and measuring the utilization of that hardware, among other metrics. "We want to figure out how big this problem is and how our strategy should evolve," Kundra said at a panel discussion in northern Virginia. He noted that the effort is still in its earliest stages.

The Obama administration counted data center consolidation among its major IT initiatives in its fiscal 2011 federal budget proposal released earlier this month. The Office of Management and Budget also announced at the time that it would be working with agencies to develop a government-wide strategy for reducing both the number and cost of federal data centers.

Kundra plans to detail agencies' responsibilities in terms of the consolidation effort in a memo going out to agency IT chiefs Friday. Agencies will be tasked with working on comprehensive plans at a department level, and Kundra will himself be working closely with CIOs to determine how to rationalize data center investments, whether via virtualization, data center consolidation, or cloud computing, and how those changes should be worked into the fiscal 2012 budget.

OMB has appointed Department of Homeland Security CIO Richard Spires -- who is in the midst of his own data center consolidation effort at DHS -- and Treasury Department CIO Mike Duffy to head up the consolidation effort, beginning with this survey.

In a smaller survey carried out last year, OMB discovered that the number of data centers has ballooned more than 150% in the last dozen years from 432 in 1998 to 1,100 in 2009. According to Kundra, agencies are only using 15 to 20% of the capacity of many of their data centers.

Cloud computing is a key part of Kundra's data center consolidation thinking. As we consolidate, we need to ask how we leapfrog," he said. "If we're running an app that requires 10 servers, what if we move that in the cloud, what are the optimizations we'll gain there. It's not just about brute force consolidation."

In championing the cloud, Kundra pointed to internal clouds like the Department of Defense's Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE) and NASA's Nebula and noted that commercial vendors like Microsoft and Google are beginning to come on board with public cloud services designed especially to meet government needs.

In addition to data centers, Kundra also announced that the federal CIO Council, a group of all major agency IT leaders across the government, has begun formulating a survey of the government IT workforce that will eventually help to develop a new human capital management strategy that Kundra said will analyze "what the jobs of the future are going to be like in the federal government."

Kundra also discussed $35 million in proposed funding for fiscal 2011 that would go toward engaging the public via mobile computing. He's headed out to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., soon to pick the brains of executives there. "We need to figure out how the government can serve the American people in the contexts they're most comfortable in," he said.

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