Consolidating the Future: Challenges Facing Federal Data Centers

Mike O'Brien

Improving the access to knowledge while decreasing costs is a central component in the present administration’s technological push.

In 2010, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) was implemented across all government departments and armed service branches by the Office of Management and Budget, as directed by the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

The plan has been to increase IT efficiency by the closure of 40 percent of America’s 2,900 federal data centers by the end of 2015, which would result in savings of $3 to $5 billion.

The move would be both environmentally friendly and ease some of the burden on the taxpayer. But what would appear to be seemingly achievable on paper has, in fact, been fraught with difficulties.

Government departments and agencies across the board have been facing several hurdles in meeting FDCCI deadlines.

Tackling the revolutionary challenges facing the IT community will be the focus of IDGA’s Data Center Consolidation summit next month. Siemens, one of the sponsors of the event, is at the forefront of the data center revolution. Jay Hendrix, the Data Center Head of Siemens North America, said: "Data is the lifeblood of an organization. By integrating mounds of data from multiple, separate sources into a consolidated destination, end-users can access, share and use one database that contains reliable, trusted information.

"By providing solutions for consolidating data, Siemens helps organizations meet the increased demand for access, protection, efficiency and cost savings.

"Lack of consolidated data leads to duplication of data which can raise questions related to accuracy and integrity. Difficulties arise related to storage, control and policy inconsistencies. Perhaps the greatest impact is the result of high costs related to operating multiple separate databases.

"By consolidating data, an agency can improve access to data resources, enhance data quality, increase data protection, eliminate data duplications and deliver one version of truth to the agency."

While U.S. federal IT capabilities are in a state of great transition and modernization, common problems encountered in the efficiency drive have been the collation of accurate inventories of IT equipment, measuring data center power usage and adapting federal data centers to the cultural implications of inter-agency consolidation.

The ever-increasing issue of cyber security has been another concern for data center managers.

Related: Is Your Data Center Ready for Cloud Computing?

In a blog post outlining the intiative’s goals, Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said: "We need to ensure we are delivering better service to the American people for less. Accordingly, agencies will focus on computing power and density instead of capacity, taking advantage of current technologies that deliver more bang for the buck."

The New York Times reported last fall that "data centers can waste 90 percent or more of the electricity they pull off the [power] grid," running their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock out of fear of a surge in demand that could crash the system.

Mr. Hendrix told "These data centers now consume an estimated two percent of all electricity in the U.S. each year. Federal data centers make up 10 percent of all U.S. data center energy use, which translates to an estimated $600 million in energy costs in 2010 alone - and those energy costs are increasing.

"By lowering a $600 million energy bill, along with the accompanying real estate footprint reduction, huge savings are achievable and the federal government has an opportunity to lead the way.

So what will be the key to success in achieving the goals the government has set for 2015? Siemens believes that IT solutions are most effective when they result from a strong partnership between program and mission officials, empowered CIOs and industry partners.

"Program and mission officials are responsible for understanding customer needs and establishing business requirements," Mr. Hendrix said.

"Agency CIOs must support mission programs by providing secure and effective commodity IT and business systems that take enterprise needs into account. And, industry partners provide the technology, best practices and experienced workforce to fill government gaps."

Accepting risks and learning from the lessons of others will be important factor. Industry has been doing data center consolidations for much longer and faster than government, so learning and incorporating the best practices of the private sector is essential.

Mr. Hendrix said: "One example is within the DoD; they acknowledged that the budget was going to be the catalyst of change and they would be held accountable for results. Therefore, every military department has taken money out of the budget giving them no alternative but to achieve this new efficient operating state."

Related: Data Center Actions in Times of Economic Uncertainty

Budgets and funding, however, remain the major hurdles in completing this huge effort on time.

Mr. Hendrix added: "Energy Saving Performance Contracts (ESPC) have been used successfully by government agencies, but very little is being done in the data center space. With a flat budget, ESPCs should be evaluated. Invite industry in and see what they think. After all, the risk is on the contractor to deliver results.

"As a certified Energy Services Company, Siemens provides essential expertise for meeting federal energy goals and optimizing energy management – from energy audits and full program design, to alternative financing that cover costs while energy savings are realized.

"Federal agencies are also accepting risk as they have important missions to accomplish, so the services they purchase must work as promised. Cloud computing is an example of the government taking a risk by incorporating commercial cloud services for their non-core functions, like email."

The issues raised here will be addressed at IDGA’s 3rd Annual Data Center Consolidation Summit in Washington D.C. from May 21-22. For full details go to