NWS data center

The game changes for data center consolidation

First of four parts.

Three years after it was launched, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative is moving beyond metrics and zeroing in on technologies that are proven to drive down IT costs.

More in this series

State finds power in data center consolidation

Utah’s state government cut its number of servers from 1,864 to 591 and saved $4 million on its IT budget. Read more.

Boosting data center efficiency without upfront costs

Agencies can use Energy Savings Performance Contracts, under which they pay for work out of future energy savings. Read more.

6 steps to data center savings

The goal of any consolidation project is savings. Here’s a checklist to help make sure things go right. Read more.

Set up by then-federal CIO Vivek Kundra, the FDCCI aimed to curb data center proliferation, which had led to low usage of individual agency centers and runaway IT energy consumption across government.

Today, the initiative’s goals have evolved as agencies grapple with such questions as: What’s the definition of a data center? How many data centers are there? And what’s the difference between a core data center and a non-core data center? 

These questions caused the Obama administration to keep shifting its goal for the initiative, which now plans to close 40 percent of non-core federal data centers by the end of fiscal 2014.

Despite the moving targets, agencies that have embraced data center consolidation are now reporting significant savings in IT capital expenditures, operating budgets, payroll and facilities costs.

The best results come from agencies that don’t just empty out server closets, say government IT experts, but engage in an architectural overhaul that includes virtualized servers, storage and desktops, converged networks, and the latest energy-efficient power and cooling systems.

“Every federal customer I talk to mentions the number of data centers as their metric. They have 12 data centers, and they want to get down to four,’’ said Doug Bourgeois, vice president of VMware Public Sector.

“But there’s a big difference if you close an extra-large data center with 100,000 square feet and a closet that is 200 square feet. The folks on Capitol Hill realize that, and they are shifting to more of a focus on overall IT costs.’’

Jeff Baxter, a consulting systems engineer for NetApp U.S. Public Sector, agreed. “The initial focus was on the sheer number of data centers, and drawing that number down is still a top-line focus,” he said. “But we’re also seeing an increased focus on all the other metrics: cost savings, power efficiency and space efficiency,”

“It’s not just about closing down these 1,200 server closets, but in the process how do we reduce our overall amount of power … and how do we make the remaining data centers more efficient.”

The Defense Department, for example, has established aggressive goals for data center consolidation, targeting 589 facilities for closure between 2010 and 2014, according to Data.gov. Data center and network consolidation are the first step in DOD CIO Teri Takai’s 10-point plan for IT modernization.

In a 2012 report, Takai said DOD is migrating from 700 data centers to fewer than 100, while also reducing the number of network operations centers from 65 to 25. At the same time, DOD is shifting to a secure, private cloud infrastructure based on standard IT platforms. Besides improving security and providing faster delivery of new services, the DOD IT consolidation and modernization effort will “save billions through cost efficiencies,” she said.

Bourgeois estimates that federal agencies have virtualized 40 percent of their servers. “That means there are still 60 percent of servers out there that could be virtualized,” he said. “If you use a 4-to-1 consolidation ratio, that’s somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent of the potential cost reduction that’s still out there to be captured.”

At the Energy Department, the Hanford nuclear site cleanup in Washington state is reporting significant savings from the deployment of a secure private cloud infrastructure that replaced 13 data centers and server farms scattered across its 560 square mile campus.

Using virtualization, the DOE contractor that operates Hanford’s data centers was able to shrink the number of physical servers from 700 down to 16. Hanford is using the FlexPod converged IT architecture, which includes VMware for virtualized servers and desktops, Cisco networking gear and NetApp storage. 

“It’s shocking” how much floor space we opened up, said Todd Eckman, vice president of DOE contractor, the Mission Support Alliance.  “In a building that’s 3,000 square feet, we’re now taking up only a couple hundred. We’re repurposing the space for other uses.”

Hanford’s main data center – plus a fully virtualized back-up data center – now runs 1,300 applications and supports 7,000 desktop users and 10,000 Voice over IP users. 

Hanford has deployed 1,500 thin clients as part of its desktop virtualization effort, with plans to convert its entire workforce to the technology by the end of 2015. Eckman said Hanford expects to save $40 million on desktop virtualization alone between now and 2019.

“The cost savings from desktop virtualization are everywhere,” Eckman said. “It’s the refresh costs of the hardware. Thin clients cost anywhere from half to a third as much as desktops. The life cycle of the thin client far exceeds the legacy device … User training and maintenance cost less, too.’’

With new, state-of-the-art air conditioning and uninterruptible power supplies, Hanford’s consolidated data center is driving down energy costs, too.

DOE doesn’t know exactly how much energy savings came as a result of the data center consolidation at Hanford because it didn’t track the electrical bills for all of the server closets that it operated in the past. But one application that it could measure – the replacement of a traditional Lucent telephone system with VoIP phones –saw an 89 percent power reduction. Additionally, DOE said the virtualized thin clients that it has deployed use 80 percent less power than traditional desktops.

“There’s no doubt that we dramatically reduced power at the desktop and in the data centers by our virtualization efforts, VoIP conversion and thin client activity,” Eckman said. “I’m guessing we’ve seen 50 percent to 60 percent overall energy savings.”

DOE’s Hanford data center is reporting an average Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.8, with 1.0 being a perfect score.

“We’ve found that in most of the things we do out here, the “green” benefits come out of doing business the right way,” said Ben Ellison, DOE Hanford’s chief information officer. “We took it on face value that anything we did to be more efficient from an IT perspective and a cost perspective would make us more efficient from an energy perspective, too.”

Now that it has built this cost-effective private cloud infrastructure, the Hanford site is offering IT services to other agencies. “We are now hosting other federal agencies in our data center because we have room and the capacity to support other workloads,” Eckman said. “That will allow others to close down inefficient data centers they are operating.”

Reader Comments

Thu, Sep 19, 2013

Power and maintenance cost savings are certain. Space savings is only real if the space saved is repurposed and financed by a new occupant. The downside I have seen, resultant from server consolidation, centralization and reduction, is the significantly slower access and response when performing work along with more frequent network interruptions. This appears to be related to more users accessing a narrow pipeline.

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