Feds Commence Huge Data Center Consolidation

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra tour the NASA Nebula cloud computing container last year. Kundra has announced plans for a major consolidation of 1,100 U.S. government data centers.

The federal government has begun what looms as the largest data center consolidation in history, hoping to dramatically reduce IT operations that are currently distributed among more than 1,100 data centers.

On Friday Federal CIO Vivek Kundra outlined details of the ambitious plan in a memo that directs federal agencies to prepare an inventory of the IT assets by April 30 and develop a preliminary data center consolidation plan by June 30. These plans will need to be finalized by Dec. 31, 2010, with implementation beginning in 2011.

Huge Implications for Data Center Sector
The government data center consolidation has huge implications for the fortunes of system integrators, data center service providers (especially in northern Virginia), and cloud computing platforms optimized for hosting government apps.

The consolidation effort figures to generate significant business for companies providing energy efficiency tools and consulting, as Kundra signaled that reducing energy costs will be a driving force in the effort. He noted that the number of government data centers soared from 432 in 1999 to the current 1,100 plus.

“This growth in redundant infrastructure investments is costly, inefficient and unsustainable and has a significant impact on energy consumption,” said Kundra. “In 2006 Federal servers and data centers consumed 6 billion kwH of electricity, and without a fundamental shift in how we deploy technology it could reach 12 billion kwH by 2012.”

First Assessment Due April 30
The immediate challenge: Federal agencies must conduct a “high-level assessment” of all their IT assessments and data centers by April 30, followed by a more detailed accounting by July 30.

In announcing the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, Kundra outlined four high-level goals:

  • Promote the use of Green IT by reducing the overall energy and real estate footprint of government data centers;
  • Reduce the cost of data center hardware, software and operations;
  • Increase the overall IT security posture of the government;
  • Shift IT investments to more efficient computing platforms and technologies.

That last bullet point is boosting expectations that a meaningful chunk of government IT operations will be shifted to a cloud computing model. Kundra discussed this prospect at an appearance Friday, saying the federal government is looking for “game-changing approaches” to deal with the problematic growth in data centers rather than “brute force consolidation.”

“This is a huge opportunity to apply best practices from the private sector,” Kundra told Federal Computer Week. “It is a huge problem. The path we are on does not make sense.”

Likely to Boost Data Center Demand
But the cloud model won’t make sense for all federal applications. If recent consolidations by companies like HP and Intel are any indication, the drive for greater efficiency will render many of the current data center properties obsolete. Many older data facilities do not have the power capacity to support a highly-utilized equipment space. Consolidation also leads to higher densities, which are more difficult to cool in legacy facilities.

That means new data center space, most likely in northern Virginia and Maryland. Systems integrators and companies building cloud platforms have been among the players driving demand for data center space in northern Virginia, where demand has been strong and new supply has been limited. As the federal consolidation moves ahead, that demand is likely to increase as federal agencies identify new requirements.

The federal consolidation is also likely to be good news for server vendors, as consolidations usually include hardware refreshes to take advantage of the latest advances in computing power and energy efficiency.

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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  1. Peter

    These should all be located on military bases in hardened underground bunkers. Decomissioned airbases typically have underground hangers capable of withstanding a medium sized nuclear explosion. An all fiber network and nonmagnetic storage medium or backup would help it survive come what may.

  2. Michael

    If they're consolidating most of the data center to a single place, they should consider placing the structure in far nothern or high altitude location, to take advantage of open air cooling as is being explored by google and other large it companies. They could then run a single massive fiber line to it.

  3. Josh Winter

    As is almost universally true of direction from OMB, this is another unfunded mandate. This won't be a business opportunity for ANYONE because agencies are strapped for cash and don't have a spare nickel to waste on this trendy foolishness. It's another pointless sowing of confusion and uncertainty, while spending a dollar to save a nickel. The energy and cooling used by computers is determined by the number of computers and not the number of datacenters. If Federal agencies had the money to replace their computers with more modern and efficient models, they could do that at existing datacenters. If they are using older less efficient computers it is because they DON'T HAVE ANY MONEY, and making them spend what money they have on moving datacenters around will make the problem WORSE. If OMB wants agencies to get more efficient, they need to give them MONEY to buy more modern technology. Our cars won't burn less gas just because we park them in fewer larger garages. This is STUPID!

  4. If federal agencies DON'T HAVE ANY MONEY for IT infrastructure, what happened to the $3.4 billion allocated for these upgrades in the Obama stimulus plan? That measure supposedly earmarked $500 million for Social Security data centers, $290 million for the State Department's IT and $200 million for DHS, among others. I'm not saying unfunded mandates aren't a huge challenge. But the U.S. taxpayers put up a lot of money to go towards these initiatives.

  5. As Josh and Rich pointed out, there may be funding issues with these consolidations if this is a replacement effort. If done correctly, these consolidation efforts often have large and rapid paybacks. I think the correct action, as Mr. Kundra has planned, is to first determine the current situation through assessments. I’ve been involved in many commercial and government consolidations; often the assessment recommendations (if followed) are a reorganization for more efficient operation in one facility, which then enables equipment and services to be moved in from another facility, instead of new equipment and construction. Key to gaining this efficiency is proper hot aisle/cold aisle organization, hot aisle containment and increasing the equipment “density” in the racks; essentially just moving equipment around for maximum efficiency. I have personally seen energy savings of 30% or more just through organization and equipment moves. Of course equipment density probably allows more efficiency of the staff also. This kind of energy savings can result in paybacks in just a few years – a blink of the eye in terms of government spending.

  6. Jake

    Rich, you should actually read the article that you posted the link to about the 3.4 billion in stimulus for IT. The article very clearly breaks down where that 3.4 billion was going to. Of that 3.4 billion, only 12 Government Agencies will receive direct funding for a total amount of about 1.555 billion. That leaves the lions share of this to go for grants and undisclosed non-government entities for what appears to be mainly research and development of software and reporting. That is just short of 2 billion of your taxes dollars that are earmarked for a "Government" stimulus package that is flowing directly back to the corporate world. Of the billion and a half that the 12 agencies are receiving about 1/3 of that goes to build a SINGLE data center for Social Security, which leave about a billion left. Out of that billion, about half of the money is earmarked for "soft projects" such as research, development, automation and of all things, a "Capital Investment Fund" for the Department of State. Just what is an IT related "Capital Investment Fund" anyway? That sounds kind of vague to me. So all told, the total amount of money that is actually invested in physical hardware/infrastructure is about 1 billion split between 9 of the agencies. Remember too, this stimulus money only went to 12 agencies. What of all the other Government agencies - what money did they get in this stimulus? Absolutely nothing. Josh is correct, this is yet another top down managed "good idea" that no one thought through at all and no funds will be made available to execute it. Someone needs to actually think before they open their mouth and let a lot of BS full out that creates nothing but havoc throughout the Government. Greg, there is no such thing as a consolidation that doesn't have equipment and construction impact. Consolidating 6 racks of servers into 1 rack and then moving additional equipment in from another facility to fill the space will create an additional cooling load. The number of servers did not go away, they simply became more dense. Adding more equipment from another facility not only creates this additional cooling load, it also creates the problem of direct localized cooling in a more dense environment. Hot aisle/cold aisle is not going to solve the problem when the CRAC units are arranged around the perimeter of the room and and you have now increase the amount of localized cooling that is needed per each rack and per each hot aisle. Consolidating in this manner will have you ripping your CRAC units out and replacing them with larger units and constructing a distribution method that provides more direct cooling to each rack. Consolidating by bringing equipment in from another facility also increases the power requirements for the room. These rooms do not have unlimited power and increasing the requirement will lead to pulling another power main into the room, increasing the rooms UPS size, which is not cheap, and creates side issues such as floor load - UPS batteries literally weigh a ton, additional space required for non-IT equipment etc. Further issues that come up when viewing these blanket mandates are ROI and capital investment issues. Lets say you just moved into your current Computer Room/Data Center a year ago. The cost to build that space out is a sunk capital investment that should be amortized over the length of the lease or the estimated life expectancy of the current configuration - which had better be at least 5 to 10 years or someone didn't do their job correctly. The CRAC units, UPS, servers, switches, routers, cable plant - all have an associated ROI to them. Designing the layout of the room and the associated network infrastructure had an manpower cost - something that the Government is notorious for over looking. Yes ... having a group of people work for months on an issue actually costs the Government money, their salaries are not free. All of this sunk capital investment and has a ROI. This needs to be considered since it impacts directly on your overall costs for any changes that are to be done in the future. To propose a consolidation now, a year after your investment, you will need to offset any future cost against those of your ROIs and sunk investment and prior to doing any changes, you will have to show that there is either a significant savings within a reasonable amount of time or there is a drastic increase in productivity that will warrant an offset to the cost.

  7. Prosha

    I noticed from the majority of the comments that most people have a really vague idea on how the majority of this consolidation efforts will end up. What is going to happen is the government will switch from the so-called "government-owned, government-operated" or "government-owned, contractor-operated" models to "contractor-owned, contractor-operated" concept. In simple terms, the government will not be buying the majority of new IT assets and neither it will build data centers (with few critical exceptions such as SSA data center). The contractors will own both, and have responsibility for hardware and software refreshes, etc. They will sell Infrastructure as a service. Therefore, most of these dollars will go right back to the private sector. And, on average, buying IaaS is 80-90% cheaper than owing the assets, as GSA example shows. The good comparison would be buying all the hardware and software to you can host your website on it vs. buying a web hosting with a vendor for $10 a month. So, please, spare the histrionics about unnecessary spending.

  8. Mark

    I think military planners and terrorists around the world think this is an excellent idea. Why waste effort having to take out a number of data centers when you can get maximum effect by concentrating the EMP in the NoVA/DC area. I'm glad I have 6 years of this foolishness left before retirement.

  9. redstorm_

    Just like the government, thinking old school. Consolidation NEVER works because too many people are involved trying to hold on to THEIR networks. Here's a thought...do what we did...implement VMWARE and consolidate servers. We've removed 7 full racks of equipment, reduced the UPS load from 95% to 68%, shrunk the room to make cooling more efficient, moved the HVAC around to cool properly and allow us to raise the temps and not have to run the compressors so often, and we're using efficient cClass HP blade chassis.....just making those changes alone helps to make this data center more efficient. There is no need to spend billions trying to do something that benefits ZERO people...the feds need to start thinking with their heads and not their back sides all the time....