Optimization Is Key To Federal Data Center Overhaul

Government agencies must raise server utilization and efficiency as they squeeze more computer processing into less physical space.
InformationWeek Green - Dec. 17, 2012
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Data Center Optimization

Closing data centers is only half the battle in the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative. The other equally important challenge is overhauling the data centers that remain to handle heavier workloads, and do so more efficiently and at lower cost than today's facilities.

Launched by the Office of Management and Budget two years ago, the FDCCI aims to close 1,200, or 40%, of the federal government's 3,133 data centers by the end of 2015. The data centers that continue operating will have to pick up the workload from those that close, in addition to handling the ever-growing requirements they already support. That means data center optimization -- in the form of virtualization, more tightly packed server configurations, increased energy efficiency and new cooling approaches -- is vital to success of the broader initiative.

The need for data center optimization is spelled out in the FDCCI documentation. Agencies are required to provide regular updates on the energy savings of their data centers, on virtualization and server-density rates, and on their use of cloud computing and shared services.

"While we continue to rack up closures and focus on consolidation opportunities to maximize savings, it's equally important to focus on the efficiencies of the data centers that remain in our inventory," Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel wrote in a blog post. "These data centers, which will take on additional work as we consolidate, will become the centerpieces of service delivery to American taxpayers." Agencies, he said, must focus on computing density, not just data center capacity.

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FDCCI objectives include reducing energy consumption and costs, optimizing cooling and power distribution, lessening environmental impact, improving operational efficiency and enhancing the government's agility.

The FDCCI's consolidation plan lays out, in six phases, how agencies must proceed. First, federal IT teams must take an inventory of their technology assets and establish other metrics to gauge progress. The second, third and fourth phases cover application mapping, data center design and transition planning. Consolidation and optimization together account for phase five. The final phase is "ongoing optimization," whereby data center operations are monitored and improved constantly.

Federal agencies and departments will find themselves in different phases as they close or optimize data centers, then turn to others. The Army, which plans to shutter 70% of its data centers, is consolidating 13,000 applications. "This will help us drive down costs," says Col. James Parks, director of the Army's data center consolidation.

Pulling the stakeholders together is an important first step, Parks says. At each site the Army plans to close, it forms "discovery teams" of stakeholders, including personnel from other military branches.

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