Want to know what you spend on data centers? Start shutting them down.

Consolidation process shows admins what they might not know, DHS IT official says

A big benefit agencies can achieve from data center consolidation is finding out just what they spend on data centers, Michael Brown, executive director of the Homeland Security Department’s information technology services office, told attendees at a conference in Washington, D.C., on May 19.

“It is an incredible challenge to figure out what we are spending today on data centers,” Brown said during a panel discussion at the Data Center Consolidation on a Dime conference held by MeriTalk and NetApp, a provider of network storage solutions. 

Many data center budgets are buried in managed services and program offices. As a result, some people who handle data center operations daily really do not know what they are spending for those services, Brown said.

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Work on data center consolidation really takes place at the component and bureau levels. However, agencies are often measuring progress at the department and agency levels, he said.

“As we roll up centers at DHS, we are gaining greater knowledge about those centers,” he said. Then the activity turns to tackling consolidation system by system, rack by rack.  At this point agencies can focus on all those metrics that are important to understanding their environments, Brown said. DHS has a goal to consolidate 24 data centers into two state-of-the-art facilities by 2014.

In March 2011, MeriTalk worked with NetApp to survey 152 federal IT decision makers to understand their data center consolidation progress, optimization metrics as well as data center resource and cost savings opportunities.

Nearly half of the respondents, 47 percent, said their agency has successfully consolidated some data centers. On average, this group has reduced data center counts by 31 percent and saved 20 percent of their IT budgets based on consolidation so far, according to the Measure to Manage Report.

Agencies estimate they can reduce data centers by and average of 35 percent and save 24 percent of their total IT budget. As a result, the government can achieve an estimated annual savings of $18.8 billion, according to the report.

“Eighteen billion dollars is an attractive figure at this time,” Brown said. If agencies can avoid spending more money on infrastructure, they can invest more on technology for mission-critical capabilities, he said.  In fact, “if we don’t spend less on infrastructure we will be devoting more of the IT budget to keeping the lights on,” on operations and maintenance, he said.

Services produce the greatest savings. For example, every bureau is independently acquiring engineering, systems administration and storage services, which is not an efficient approach. If agencies can pool shared services over a platform and pay by the drink per month that will bring the savings, he said.

DHS has achieved savings at every data center the department has consolidated. For instance, more DHS components are using disaster recovery services provided through the department’s private cloud. 

As the Navy Department has consolidated data centers, officials have been surprised at how many organizations didn’t have disaster recovery and continuity-of-operations services, said Janice Haith, director of assessments and compliance with the Navy.

Last year, flooding at a facility in Tennessee wiped out the data center and it took weeks to restore capabilities. A lesson learned from that experience: You must have a COOP site that can fail over at a moment’s notice, Haith said.

The Navy is looking to partner with the Army and Air Force in areas where the services are concentrated together such as Norfolk, Va., Florida and Georgia, Haith said. The Defense Information Systems Agency is also a partner whose mega data center the Navy can use if they don’t see value in keeping certain data centers open. 

“As we move forward to the future [there will be] a more efficient military, one geared toward the military environment of taking care of the warfighter's needs," she said.

The Obama administration also plans to close 800 data centers by 2015. The federal government will shutter 137 of its 2,094 data centers by the end of 2011. 



About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Fri, May 20, 2011 Arty

DHS is making a big mistake. Two massive data centers concentrates too much compute in one place. It's one thing to consider centralized control as a means to govern a large organization, but over-centralizing a vital function creates a serious vulnerability. If you take a close look at today's computers, you will realize one can obtain massive compute without massive physical plant. The computers run significantly cooler, they turn orders of magnitude more g-flops, and they are cheaper to buy. Multiple, smaller centers with much smaller plant requirements provide a far less vulnerable configuration. In addition, such an approach alleviates the dependance on just one or two contractors, since every center can be operated and maintained under a different contract -- or different award under a single, multiple-award contract. I don't imagine the DHS people will even see this comment, much less act on it -- just remember when their IT system goes belly-up because they were too centralized, you saw it here first.

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