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NASA Shifts Data Center Strategy

New guidance on cloud computing, energy efficiency, and data center consolidation puts the space agency's $1.5 billion data center plans on hold for now.

NASA, which had been planning to build a new enterprise data center estimated to cost $1.5 billion, has done an abrupt about-face, announcing late last month that it was planning major changes to its data center strategy.

In an announcement posted on the site of NASA's long-term, multi-billion dollar IT transformation project, the Information Technology Infrastructure Integration Program (I3P), NASA said that it was postponing the release of a long-awaited request for proposal for the new data center in light of new White House policies and leadership changes at NASA.

"NASA intends to create a data center consolidation plan to incorporate all data centers, systems and applications," the announcement said.

"This data center plan will include a data center architecture and full enterprise assessment, which will allow NASA to design an infrastructure strategy to address all business requirements while taking advantage of opportunities to reduce energy costs and utilize innovations like cloud computing."

The announcement notes that new Office of Management and Budget policy has a lot to do with the planned changes. In the last several months, OMB has issued new guidance on cloud computing, energy efficiency and data center consolidation, both in the budget and in separate memos from federal CIO Vivek Kundra.

In fact, NASA made its announcement on the same day Kundra sent out a data center consolidation memo to agency CIOs. That memo instructed agencies to develop data center consolidation plans and incorporate them into 2012 fiscal budget plans by the end of August after first carrying out an assessment of their current data center infrastructures.

The number of data centers belonging to the U.S. government has more than doubled in the past 10 years, an expensive and wasteful trend that Federal CIO Vivek Kundra says he wants to stop.

New NASA CIO Linda Cureton likely played a strong role in the changes. According to a procurement announcement last year, the RFP was first anticipated to be released by mid-September 2009, but this changed as Cureton led a review of I3P when she came on board in September, with an eye toward making sure the I3P plans met NASA's goals.

According to a .PDF version of a presentation given by Kennedy Space Center CIO Mike Bolger as I3P ramped up in 2008, NASA had 75 total data centers and 15,000 servers at the start of the transformation initiative. These were mostly managed separately by the different space agencies. The long-term target is to consolidate these into a much more manageable number.

While in many places, NASA's data center glut has gotten out of hand, it has also been on the leading edge of data center technology in spots. For example, NASA Ames is rolling out a private cloud platform, Nebula, that will run in a portable data center housed in containers.

NASA says its new plan should be ready by fall 2010.

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