The FAA’s Larry Grossman says the agency plans to run as much of its infrastructure in the cloud as possible.

Data Center Consolidation Is More Than a Numbers Game

Agencies are closing data centers, but more important, they’re optimizing operations.

Since the Office of Management and Budget launched its Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI), the Transportation Department has eliminated 33 data centers, 23 of which are Federal Aviation Administration facilities.

But the true success in FAA’s consolidation efforts can be found in how the agency is using its data center resources. Modernizing the agency’s IT environment and improving overall efficiency are essential to the consolidation effort, says Larry Grossman, program director in the FAA’s Office of IT Optimization.

IT managers at federal agencies across government understand that the effort to consolidate data centers is far more than a numbers game.

To be sure, reducing the number of data centers is important. But agencies such as the FAA, the Agriculture Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are finding that optimizing the performance of their data centers is critical, yielding benefits such as reductions in energy and real estate costs.

“Across the DOT, our goal is to reduce data centers by 40 percent in the next three to four years,” Grossman says.

1,220

The number of federal data centers estimated to be either closed or closing from the initial kickoff in 2010 to September 2014

SOURCE: Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) Data Center Closings 2010–2014 (Data.gov, August 9, 2013)

In its efforts to reduce the number of data centers, the FAA has turned to cloud computing. And Grossman and his team are working on a project that will move the FAA deeper into the cloud. While the agency recently signed on with Microsoft to provide cloud-based email services, Grossman envisions a full complement of private cloud and colocation services that will house the agency’s core infrastructure and applications. The agency will release a request for proposals in early 2014 for this effort, Grossman says.

Along with email, Grossman says the FAA hopes to run its accounting, human resources, and homegrown aviation and business apps in the cloud. He also sees the cloud as an excellent environment for testing applications.

“It really makes no sense to spend $60,000 to $80,000 on a couple of pieces of hardware and then run tests for two months,” Grossman says. “In a lot of instances, that hardware just sits there after the tests and does nothing.”

Grossman says he looks forward to setting up an IT environment where he could spin up 25 virtual machines, run a test and then have the cloud provider send him the bill.

“I want us to consume what we need to consume and then pay for it,” he says. “Our goal is to have much less data center infrastructure internally. We really don’t want to be in the business of managing too much of the physical hardware.”

Data Center Consolidation Is All About Efficiency

Shawn McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights, says agencies such as the FAA are on the right path.

“Everyone gets hung up on numbers,” McCarthy says. “It’s really less about closing data centers and more about consolidating redundant applications onto a common platform that can be delivered as a shared service. As agencies move to that environment, they’ll need less data center space and ultimately they will consolidate and close more data centers.”

The governmentwide data center consolidation effort appeared to hit a setback earlier this year when the Government Accountability Office determined that the federal government maintains more than 7,000 data centers — thousands more than auditors originally counted. However, this had more to do with a change in the definition of a data center than with a lack of progress among agencies. The reason for the vast disparity, says McCarthy, was because OMB decided to count even one or two servers in a small wiring closet as a data center.

Turning Data Centers Into…

Joseph Klimavicz, CIO of NOAA, says his agency is on track to close roughly 60 of its 274 facilities by the end of 2015. And much like the FAA’s Grossman, Klimavicz says his agency wants to move as much server and storage infrastructure to the cloud as possible.

“We’ll reduce our footprint and do it in a cost-effective manner,” Klimavicz says. “But the real goal is to reduce costs, retire applications that are not that critical and increase services so we can meet mission requirements.”

Klimavicz says data consolidation also lets the agency use shuttered facilities as office space and terminate some of its smaller leases.

“We want to be smart about how we use our facilities,” he says. “If there are simple leases we can terminate, that’s fine, and the data centers that remain will be housed in larger, more efficient facilities.”

Striking a Balance

Jim Steven, acting associate CIO for data center operations and director of the National Information Technology Center (NITC) of the USDA, says that when FDCCI was launched in 2010, the USDA had 96 data centers, of which 33 have been closed. However, when OMB changed the definition of a data center, USDA’s total count jumped to 2,200.

Steven says the department has taken a “Cloud First/Shared First” strategy toward consolidation.

“Merely shifting servers around and operating in a colocation manner does not maximize savings, eliminate under-utilized and duplicative IT platforms, improve cybersecurity or improve recoverability,” Steven explains.

He says the USDA has consolidated its distributed server workload into three enterprise data centers (EDCs) that offer cloud infrastructure as a service and storage capabilities. Steven says consolidation offers the following benefits:

  • Reduced overall costs. Consolidation has reduced the overall cost of running and maintaining the USDA’s IT environment. Steven says the first two years of the department’s data center consolidation effort have created such positive economies of scale that fiscal 2013 costs at the EDCs have decreased by about 25 percent compared with 2011. By virtualizing servers and moving applications to cloud-based services, the agency estimates it will save $203 million between 2011 and 2015, Steven says.
  • Increased agility. By centralizing IT infrastructure, the various agencies and bureaus can now focus on their missions. In addition, the agency reports increased productivity through the use of similar processes and centralized IT operations and management.
  • Improved energy efficiency. Consolidating mission-critical applications from agency server rooms to larger, greener EDCs lets the USDA lower its energy costs, reduce space utilization and reduce its total number of IT systems.
  • Reduced footprint. The USDA plans to renovate much of the office space in Washington, D.C., where many of its smaller server rooms existed. Because of these closures and the expanded use of telecommuting, USDA can consider options for eliminating the cost of expensive rental office space in Washington.
Jonathan Timmes
Oct 18 2013