Government Miscounts Data Centers

Feds find total number of data centers higher than once thought

by Rutrell Yasin, Government Computer News

The federal government has found that there are nearly 1,000 more data centers than previous estimates indicated after a rigorous peer-review process resulted in a more complete picture of agency data-center assets, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

In the past eight months, agencies have collected and refined their data-center inventories to comply with guidance set forth in the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI).

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra started the initiative in February, citing the need to stem the growth of the 1,100 federal data centers that were then thought to exist. FDCCI seeks to reduce energy use, decrease IT costs and improve security.

However, agency submissions regarding data center assets indicate that, as of July 30, there are 2,094 federal data centers, according to an Oct. 1 memo issued to agency CIOs signed by Kundra and Richard Spires, CIO at the Homeland Security Department. Spires is also the national coordinator for FDCCI.  The discovery of nearly 1,000 more data centers underscores the challenges agencies face in their consolidation efforts.

DHS, which plans to consolidate 24 data centers into two state-of-the-art facilities by 2014, found more data centers when it conducted an inventory of all its component agencies’ IT assets, Spires told attendees at a DatacenterDynamics conference in August.  “Given the decentralized nature of DHS, it is not too surprising that we’ve found a few more” data centers, he said, although he refused to cite specific numbers.

Doug Duenkel, chief operating officer at Knight Point Systems, a systems integrator that works with federal agencies on onsolidation efforts, said the revelation of previously uncounted data centers is no surprise. The process involves using a mix of automated tools to discover IT assets and manually conducting an inventory of those assets, he said. Organizations might not give asset tags to servers that cost less than $2,500, but manual counts can find those servers and others that don't have IP addresses.

Officials at a large federal agency that Knight Point works with initially thought they had 60 data centers, but after an inventory of assets, they discovered 230 data centers, Duenkel said.

Another factor contributing to the discrepancy is the definition of a data center. Although the word evokes images of server farms hosting multiple machines — which accords with the official definition under FDCCI — the agency with which Knight Point works counts a single server under a worker's desk as a data center, Duenkel said. The consolidation efforts are helpful “because you don’t want a data center under workers’ desks.” Those servers can now be targeted for virtualization, which broadly refers to consolidating several systems onto one physical machine while maintaining their separate identities.

For the purposes of FDCCI, a data center is defined as any room that is greater than 500 square feet and devoted to data processing. It also must meet one of the four-tier classifications defined by the Uptime Institute.  The government has refined its definition since the launch of FDCCI, and that change could account for the large discrepancy between the initial estimates and the final outcome, Duenkel said.

The departments with the most data centers include Defense (772), State (361), Interior (210), Health and Human Services (185), Energy (89) and Veterans Affairs (87).

The findings confirm the government's conviction that data center consolidation is a step that must be taken to boost efficiency, reduce energy costs, and save tax payer dollars, Kundra said in an e-mail to GCN.  "We knew that when we came into office many agencies did not have an accurate accounting of data centers," Kundra noted.   "That is why eight months ago, we directed agencies to collect and refine their data center inventory based on a common definition of a data center and a rigorous peer-review process," he said.

"Now we have a baseline for our aggressive reform and consolidation efforts and we are continuing to work with agencies to set datacenter reduction targets," Kundra explained.

Agencies submitted final consolidation plans to OMB on Aug. 30. CIO Council agencies are working with OMB to review, adjust and finalize those plans, which will be integrated into agencies' fiscal 2012 budget submissions. OMB will approve agency consolidation plans by Dec. 31.

However, agencies face a number of obstacles to consolidation, including a lack of upfront funding, technical difficulties, unrealistic timelines, and cultural and political problems. As a result, data-center consolidation could take a decade to achieve, according to an Input report titled “Assessment of the 2010 Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative.”

-- Rutrell Yasin is senior technology editor for Government Computer News magazine

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