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Consolidating Federal Data Centers Could Take 10 Years

Analyst firm INPUT finds significant challenges to the government's ambitious plan to save money and increase efficiency and security through greater use of virtualization and cloud computing.

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The federal government's ambitious plan to consolidate data centers as a cost-saving, security, and efficiency measure could take as long as 10 years to complete, according to a new report.

A report from government analysis firm INPUT that assessed progress on the Federal Data Center Consolidation (FDCC) initiative also found that there are some significant challenges to achieving the plan.

U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra unveiled the FDCC in February as a way to stop what he has called the "madness" of federal data center growth over the past several years.

In June, the White House followed that up with a memo in which it put a moratorium on agencies opening any new data centers. The administration also instructed agencies to examine the properties they already have and develop plans to reduce their number by 2015.

Between fiscal years 1998 and 2009, federal data centers grew 154% -- from 432 to more than 1,100. Moreover, spending on IT infrastructure currently represents 29% of the federal IT budget.

While there is no set timeline to completing the FDCC, agencies were to submit their final consolidation plans to the Office of Management and Budget by Aug. 30 for approval by Dec. 31. These plans should be incorporated into agencies' fiscal year 2012 budgets.

The federal government aims to consolidate by decommissioning, centralizing, and consolidating data center sites, with greater use of virtualization and cloud computing key facets of the plan, according to INPUT's assessment of the FDCC.

The report also noted several challenges to achieving the goals of the FDCC using these methods. One is a lack of upfront funding for the initiative, which makes it difficult for agencies to make the necessary changes to achieve consolidation. Nearly two-thirds of those interviewed for the report cited lack of funding as a major obstacle, according to INPUT.

Further, existing federal technical environments are limiting choices for consolidation, according to the report. Typical federal agency IT environments are siloed and unable to communicate with other agency systems, resulting in environments where there are data centers exclusively to run one or a handful of applications. These systems will likely need to be completely redesigned, which is a costly and time-consuming endeavor, according to INPUT.

There are cultural and political issues hindering the progress as well. Federal agencies are hesitant to give up control of their IT environments, and employees worry about losing jobs with the reduction in data center real estate, according to the report.

Also, the timeline for submitting consolidation plans may end up restricting the development of solutions, according to INPUT. Though there is no timeline for completing the FDCC, having to submit final consolidation plans by Aug. 30 likely did not give agencies enough time to thoroughly assess data center resources and come up with an efficient or cost-effective way to consolidate them.

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