Feds Really Don’t Like Sharing Data Centers

The biggest challenge to the formation of a federal marketplace for exchanging data-center capacity among federal agencies has been a cultural one, the project manager for the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative said last week.

Zach Baldwin, GSA program manager, Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, and the Cloud Computing PMO told a FierceGovernmentIT webinar about the challenge to close 40 percent of the federal government’s data centers, or roughly 1,200, by the end of 2015 as part of the FDCCI program.

The government started out with 2000 data centers, eventually growing to about 3,133 by August. Baldwin said that 318 data centers were closed between fiscal year 2011 and 2012; 119 will be closed this fiscal year, with another 681 scheduled for shutdown by the end of fiscal 2013. An ongoing list is published at Data.gov, he said, adding that he can’t dictate which data centers get the axe.

“We’re not naming data centers to close,” Baldwin said. “As soon as we get prescriptive, everyone gets very special, and there’s a lot of pushback.”

The government’s goal is twofold: reduce cost by cutting down on the number of data centers, and increase their utilization through efficiencies like virtualization. Baldwin called the government’s data center use as a “very underutilized federal IT infrastructure,” one that it’s seeking to improve: “The days of buying an application, buying a server, turning it on, having the lights flashing, running at 5 percent utilization are pretty much over.”

Marketplace Shares Capacity

In 2010, the U.S. chief information officer, Vivek Kundar, published a 25-point plan to reform federal IT.  The Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration were tasked to “match agencies with extra capacity to agencies with increasing demand, thereby improving the utilization of existing facilities,” Kundra wrote. “The marketplace will help agencies with available capacity promote their available data center space. Once agencies have a clear sense of the existing capacity landscape, they can make more informed consolidation decisions.”

That marketplace is now up and running, Baldwin said, but not without its issues.

The most common problems facing Baldwin’s team include metering, where one agency really has no idea how much capacity is being used and billed to another agency; interagency memorandums of understanding and “chargebacks” against those MOAs; and honoring and maintaining service-level agreements (SLAs).

“Right now, for the agencies, there’s little incentive to take on outside customers,” Baldwin said. “It’s easy to deal with a customer when they’re paying you money and you’re making a profit. We’re not going to be doing that agency to agency so much, so we can cover costs. We don’t know if we need a stick or a carrot, but right now there’s little incentive for agencies to take on outside customers.”


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