The National Security Agency leads operations at the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center, located near Bluffdale, Utah.

May 03 2016
Data Center

Federal Data Centers Are About to Go Green in a Big Way

The new Data Center Optimization Initiative will improve performance and lead to greater efficiencies at federal data centers, but there is still work to do.

Over the past six years, the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) guided agencies to close all unnecessary data centers, whether they were large but redundant facilities or glorified broom closets.

With that consolidation effort mostly complete, in March the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) to supersede the instructions laid out in FDCCI.

For Steve Sarnecki, vice president of the federal and public sector at OSIsoft, the new guidance from OMB is welcome. Instead of just shuttering data centers, it focuses on improving the infrastructure that supports these centers, such as by cutting energy and water costs.

“There are a lot of good parts to the new OMB policy,” says Sarnecki. “Government needs to look more at the total operating footprint. When they have data for all these factors, then they can make real changes.”

Making Data Centers More Efficient

FDCCI focused on closing data centers. Since it launched in 2010, the initiative closed a large percentage of facilities, but Sarnecki says it focused only on consolidating existing centers and not improving those still in use.

The new policy aims to fix that. The memorandum, which will take effect 180 days after its early-March release, dives into power savings. It requires data center optimization focused on energy metering and measuring power-usage effectiveness. While the memorandum replaces FDCCI, many of the tenets of the original policy will remain.

Sarnecki says federal data centers typically rate “OK” when it comes to the power-usage effectiveness (PUE) of their facilities. That number measures the amount of a data center’s total facility energy and it’s IT equipment energy. But what he wants government to focus on improving are two other numbers: carbon-usage effectiveness (CUE) and water effectiveness.

“In many ways the policy does not go far enough,” he observes. “It’s great that OMB made this step, but it only goes part of the way.”

Sarnecki compared government facilities with one of OSIsoft’s commercial customers, eBay. The online auction site looks at data center performance at a granular level, trying to best monetize each kilowatt hour.

“Since so much of eBay’s business is tied to the data center, they are very mindful of inefficiencies,” he explains. “They provide a lot of lessons on how data centers can be run and optimized.”

Cutting Down on Physical Costs

The biggest issue may be water. According to a Wall Street Journal article last summer, once it reaches full capacity, the 200-acre National Security Agency data center campus will use more water than the entire town of Bluffdale, Utah, where it’s located.

This is a major issue as water prices rise in states like California that have seen droughts in recent years.

Per the new memorandum, agencies must reduce physical data center costs by at least 25 percent by the end of fiscal 2018. They must also close 25 percent of tiered and 60 percent of nontiered data centers.

“Our goal is to provide agencies with the data they need on their data centers,” Sarnecki said. “It’s about setting up data centers to not only see results in the short term but also be long-term assets.”

Parker Higgins/Wikimedia Commons

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