Will Federal Data Center Construction Freeze Benefit Colocation Providers?

The opportunity is big, but closing a data center services deal with the Fed is a long and complicated journey.

Bill Stoller

April 4, 2016

5 Min Read
Will Federal Data Center Construction Freeze Benefit Colocation Providers?
The White House (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Will the latest White House freeze on data center expansion and construction by federal agencies accelerate colocation and cloud deployments?

While the latest proposal from the White House could become a windfall for private sector companies that provide infrastructure services, the devil appears to reside in the implementation details.

The Federal government today spends 80 percent of its $80 billion IT budget to maintain outdated, legacy, duplicative systems, according to Tony Scott, the federal CIO.

Barriers to adoption of hybrid cloud solutions by government agencies can differ due to differences in mission requirements and culture for civilian agency procurement under the GSA and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

One hurdle which has proven difficult for the White House Office of Management and Budget to overcome has been agency bias in favor of on-premises infrastructure and software solutions.

Recent Federal Initiatives

In February 2010, the OMB launched the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative. FDCCI was intended to promote the use of green IT, reduce the cost of data center operations, increase security, and shift IT investments to more efficient computing platforms and technologies.

In February 2011, the "Cloud First" initiative required federal agencies to evaluate their technology sourcing strategies so that cloud computing options were fully considered. It stressed the importance of each federal agency migrating the majority of their data to cloud-based servers by 2015.

The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, implemented in December 2014, required the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer to report annually on cost savings and agency implementation.

Unfortunately, a stroke of the federal CIO's pen isn't akin to a magic wand when it comes to changing government agency procurement of IT services.

OMB Turns Up the Heat

Since the FDCCI 2015 goal was not met, Scott has now fired another salvo of inititives across the bow of recalcitrant agencies.

The latest 10-page memo to come out of the OFCIO ups the ante by creating the Data Center Optimization Initiative to supersede FDCCI.

Read more: White House Orders Federal Data Center Construction Freeze

If an agency wants to build a data center or expand an existing one, it must make the case to the OFCIO that there is no better alternative, such as using cloud services, leasing colocation space, or using services shared with other agencies.

The DCOI comment period ends on April 1, 2016 and implementation is scheduled for 180 days afterwards, which coincides with the next fiscal year.

An Opportunity for Incumbents

The DCOI targets saving $1.36 billion on physical data center spending between now and 2018. This sounds like a modest but achievable goal given the federal IT spend.

However, for smaller players in this sector, like data center REIT QTS Realty, getting a piece of that pie could be a significant boost to government sector revenues.

In an interview with Data Center Knowledge, Jeff Berson, chief investment officer at QTS, was quick to point out that during the last quarter of 2015, contracted monthly revenue the company received from government agencies and private contractors was just seven percent of its total revenue.

Meanwhile, QTS continues to leverage its experience in navigating the federal approval process. Earlier this month, it announced that its Dallas-Fort Worth facility has been granted FISMA accreditation, joining Atlanta, Richmond, Virginia, and Dulles, Virginia, sites.

Berson confirmed that QTS intends to seek FISMA accreditation for the former Chicago Sun-Times facility, expected to open this July.

Carpathia's Government Focus

Last year QTS closed on a $326 million purchase of Carpathia Hosting in order to beef up its cloud and managed services and boost capabilities with more government sector product offerings. Carpathia added about 250 customer logos to the QTS tenant roster. One major attraction was that Carpathia already provided services to a significant group of government contractors, including Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Oracle.

Carpathia hosts a hybrid cloud environment where government agencies can migrate existing vSphere workloads and expand to the cloud utilizing VMware vCloud Government Service. According to FedRamp.gov the Department of Defense and Department of Interior were the two agencies which authorized vCGS in early February 2015.

Carpathia had previously received its own FedRAMP approvals, and "currently operates well north of 50 ATOs for FedRAMP, DoD, and DHS customers," according to Jon Greaves, chief innovation officer at QTS.

QTS recently announced Y2Fox Data Solutions had chosen QTS to support its business expansion into the government marketplace. Y2Fox required a dedicated FedRAMP-compliant hosting platform to serve government customers including the Department of Defense, Department of Labor, and Department of the Interior.

FedRAMP Enterprise Marketing Edge

Carpathia and QTS marketing materials describe the vCGS as being "enterprise quality." Berson said he felt that the FedRAMP and FISMA accreditations gave QTS an edge when it came to marketing to private sector customers.

"We are also seeing our high level of compliance capabilities drive incremental enterprise business, given the credibility that FedRamp provides us in working with enterprise customers who are increasingly focused on their own security and compliance requirements," he said.

Until there is a seismic shift in federal agency IT culture, the biggest payoff for QTS in the short run may actually come from the ability to land more enterprise customers determined to avoid becoming the next security breach "poster child."

Bottom Line

According to MeriTalk, from 2015 to 2020, $65 billion will be spent by federal agencies as they work to modernize and secure valuable data, while at the same time working to consolidate their data centers.

Gartner has estimated that despite "lingering cultural and security challenges," federal cloud-based technology spend will grow by 128 percent, from $3.5 billion in 2015 to about $8 billion by 2019.

Investor Takeaway

Beyond some projected growth from existing government customers, it is very difficult for QTS to predict when an incremental government contract or a large deal will actually be signed on the dotted line.

Non-disclosure agreements add another layer of mystery regarding the QTS government business segment potential. While a shadow pipeline of government sector business exists, significant wins are not included in management's current-year guidance.

Therefore, while it remains unquantifiable, there is potential for an upside surprise for QTS in any given quarter from its government sales and marketing initiatives.

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