Fed Data Center Consolidation Flawed, Says GAO

A map of planned data center closures released by the U.S. government.

The federal government’s data center consolidation effort is being hampered by a lack of information from many agencies, according to the General Accounting Office, which has issued a report calling for stricter oversight of the effort.

The Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) is a lynchpin of the Obama administration’s effort to save taxpayer funds by streamlining government IT operations, and has already resulted in the closure of hundreds of data centers representing hundreds of millions of dollars in savings. But the GAO, a non-partisan agency that reports to Congress, says that only a small number of agencies have completed thorough inventories of their data centers and servers, and many have submitted plans that can’t account for projected savings.

“In the absence of reliable schedules and estimates, these agencies are at risk of experiencing cost overruns, missed deadlines, and performance shortfalls,” the GAO said in its report. The GAO report found:

  • Only 3 agencies have submitted complete inventories of their data centers, and only 1 agency has submitted a complete consolidation plan.
  • In their inventories, 17 agencies don’t provide full information on their IT facilities and energy usage, and 8 provide only partial information on their servers (compared to 13 that provided full information).
  • In their consolidation plans, 13 agencies fail to provide a full master program schedule and 21 agencies do not fully report their expected cost savings.

Despite these gaps in reporting and planning, the government now expects to shutter at least 1,200 data centers, or about 40 percent of the 3,133 IT facilities identified in the latest update on the consolidation. The government is on track to close 525 data centers by the end of 2012, including 215 that were shuttered in 2011. That marks an acceleration of the project, as the administration originally expected to close 137 data centers in 2011. A listing of facilities that have been closed or are targeted for closure is available at Data.gov.

One of the challenges has been that the U.S. government has had difficulty defining how many data centers it has. The number of data centers has grown steadily as the Obama administration has identified more facilities than expected, and expanded the initiative to target telecom closets. The federal consolidation was launched in early 2010, when the government tally stood at 1,100 data centers. Later that year the CIO’s office announced that it has identified 1,000 additional data centers to bring the total to 2,094.

The GAO report noted that come agencies have struggled to comply with changes in the reporting schedules for the consolidation initiative, and noted that in the midst of the effort the FCCI has changed the definition of a data center. To assist agencies in their data center consolidation efforts, the FDCCI Data Center Consolidation Task Force developed a standard Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) model in order to provide a comprehensive tool to help to inform their decisions about consolidation. However, use of the TCO model is voluntary.

The GAO recommended the the Office of Management and Budget should ensure that agencies use a standardized cost model to improve consolidation planning, and that agencies should implement recognized best practices when establishing schedules and cost estimates for their consolidation efforts.

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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. Trevor

    These cannot possibly be full datacenters. I bet many of them are more like data closets. Either way, good on the government in the consolidation effort.

  2. KungFuSV

    Unfortunately what sounds good in concept seldom translates into real world tangible benefits -- case in point is this extremely FLAWED data center consolidation effort ... see the link below for the REAL story behind this: http://www.foxbusiness.com/on-air/willis-report/blog/2012/07/23/road-bureaucratic-hell-paved-govts-best-cost-cutting-intentions