Wanted: Enterprise architects for data center consolidation

The EA community needs to play a bigger role in consolidation activities, Treasury's chief enterprise architect says.

Enterprise architects have been missing from the government's data center consolidation activities, Raghav Vajjhala, chief enterprise architect with the Treasury Department told attendees at a conference on May 12.

“Our architect program at Treasury is one of the few involved in leading a data center consolidation program at a cabinet agency. I want that to change,” Vajjhala, who is also acting associate CIO for planning and management, said during a presentation at an enterprise architecture conference sponsored by Digital Government Institute and the FEAC Institute in Washington, D.C.

“I would love to see more architects get involved in data center consolidation activity at their prospective agencies,” Vajjhala said. “Maybe it would be as simple as asking local leadership how can I help and see what response you can get.”


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Architects have a lot to contribute as well as much to learn, he said, noting that the push to consolidate data centers has come from outside the EA community.

This should prompt architects to question what types of data and information they have not been collecting and what they need to collect as their agencies move forward. Architects can bring to the table their ability to collect and, more importantly, analyze data, he said.

Often agency business managers remember the last failure and can look with skepticism on whether shared services are really going to change anything. Enterprise architects need some way to contribute to that discussion and say, “Yes. And this is how things will change,” Vajjhala said, citing the need to work with chief financial officers on determining total cost of ownership.

But first they have to ask the right questions to understand existing costs. They also must understand what must be done to ensure that unnecessary proliferation of data centers and infrastructure doesn’t happen again. After all, there were underlying reasons why government data centers mushroomed from 432 in 1998 to the current number of 2,094.

Theoretically, data center consolidation means spending less money on hardware but likely spending more on software and software-as-a-service, he said. But consolidation can increase some costs on the network, he said. In some cases, if an agency does a little bit of consolidation, network costs will go up significantly. But if an agency does a lot of consolidation, users can share bandwidth and network costs become more manageable.

This type of information was an eye-opener for Treasury. “The big challenge for us, we had to learn how to collect new data, information we previously didn’t know how to acquire,” he said. Architects tend to look at what was done in the past rather than focusing on the future. Technology changes and services change, so it is not likely the same data will be relevant all over again, Vajjhala noted.

Architects have to determine the right questions to ask and then find the right data to answer those questions. For example, controlling energy use is a big factor for consolidation. When identifying data, do you track electricity usage or air conditioner types? Does this change based on environment? When collecting data, do you need to have design plans or electricity bills? When preparing data for analysis, how can the data be used to model costs and benefits?

If enterprise architects must play a role in data center consolidation efforts, agencies have to determine what are the necessary skills needed for success. Treasury is placing an emphasis on statistics and math skills, he said.

Data collection takes a lot of energy. “It will consume your team to collect and validate data,” he said. “We have to get [more] disciplined to make sure each data collected has a use and point to it,” Vajjhala said, cautioning against expending too much energy on data collection and leaving little time for data analysis and modeling.

The Obama administration will shut 137 of the federal government's 2,094 federal data centers by the end of the year, in a move to reduce costs and improve the efficiency of government IT infrastructures.

Details on the total number of data centers that will be shut down by the end of 2011 as a result of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, are available at CIO.gov. Treasury has closed one data center in Vienna, Va. The department plans to shut down three more in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia by the end of the year, according to the list on CIO.gov.

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