Iron Mountain data center

New data center offers options for agencies looking to optimize

Iron Mountain’s new data center in Manassas, Va., looks like any other modern office building: large blue glass windows at the entrance, a well landscaped exterior, an American flag. But there are hints at its high security standards: the cameras, its remote location and a significant setback from the main roadway.  Any part of the building beyond the welcome area is off limits unless visitors are accompanied by an escort.

The data center already had its first customer up and running before the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this month and the company is in talks with other potential clients, including federal agencies.

Iron Mountain’s new building is just the latest  data center to open in Northern Virginia, the largest data center market in the county, according to a white paper by Data Center Frontier and datacenterHawk. More than 20 major data center operators provide "4.6 million square feet of commissioned data center space, representing 616 megawatts (MW) of commissioned power,” the paper says.

The federal government has helped spur a good deal of that demand.

Bill Meaney, the president and CEO of Iron Mountain, said his firm expects federal agencies to make up 20 to 25 percent of its business at the new location. The exact amount depends on how quickly agencies can make the transition, Meaney said.

“I think we’ll get our fair share at federal demand, it just a matter of when that demand comes to market,” he said.

The federal government has been working for years to consolidate data centers and increase efficiency. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) voiced his frustration with these consolidation efforts in his remarks before the ribbon cutting.

“We thought in 2009 we had about 1,100 data centers,” Connolly said. “We wanted to consolidate them, make them more efficient, move them to the cloud, partner with the private sector where they had the main expertise. And the progress we’ve made over eight years is we went from identifying 1,100 data centers to 12,000.”

This struggle with consolidation is something that Iron Mountain has noticed, according to Mark Kidd, Iron Mountain’s senior vice president and general manager of data centers.

“There really has been a drive to consolidate [the federal government] data centers' footprint, and if you look at the hearings that have happened on the topic and the report cards, they’ve been relatively unsuccessful in that endeavor over the past few years,” Kidd said.

An August report from the Government Accountability Office on these efforts tells the same story. The federal government started consolidating data centers because it noticed they had low utilization rates, David Powner, the GAO's director of IT issues, told GCN. But years later, only 123 of the 4,528 reported agency-owned data centers have automated monitoring tools, which are required to provide true utilization data. The Defense Department, which has far more agency-owned data centers than any other agency -- 2,578 -- doesn’t have any, according to GAO.

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act outlines five targets for agencies to meet.  None of the agencies have met all five, and only six  expect to meet them by this time next year. “That’s not great,” Powner said.

In a few years, he said, agencies will have to decide whether they should run their own data centers or outsource them.  

Agencies can benefit from moving to a new commercial center, Powner said. New equipment is more energy efficient, he noted, which can have a greater return on investment, and is generally more secure.

Connolly, meanwhile, said that improving security by updating legacy systems is of utmost importance for the government, and he suggested that next-gen data centers can be a key part of that effort.

“The only good news,” he joked, “is that I’m told the Chinese don’t know how to hack into COBOL.”

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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