White House Puts Clamps on Data Center Development

The federal program for improving the operation of thousands of government data centers has entered a new phase that will impact significantly how electronic information is stored and managed. Proposed updates to data center operations will affect providers of data management products and could spur the use of cloud technology.

Commercial vendors and others with an interest in federal data center information technology have been invited to comment on the proposals by April 1.

Federal CIO Tony Scott recently released proposals for major changes in government policy regarding federal data centers. The proposals include prohibiting government agencies from developing new data centers — or significantly expanding existing centers — unless such efforts are approved by the CIO and theOffice of Management and Budget. The office of the federal CIO operates as a unit within OMB.

The approval policy was revealed in the March 2 Federal Register in which Scott outlined a revision of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, or FDCCI, of 2010. A new Data Center Optimization Initiative will supersede the previous program. OMB presented the DCOI as a draft and will finalize the proposal after assessing public comment.

A Focus on Performance

“This draft policy improves upon metrics for measuring successful management of data centers; sets federal governmentwide three-year targets for those metrics, closures and cost savings to be achieved from data centers; and takes steps to further federal incorporation of cloud alternatives,” Scott said.

While the proposed approval process doesn’t necessarily preclude data center development, he referenced the policy as a “development freeze.” The policy proposal includes the following key components:

  • New or expanded data centers: Agencies seeking OMB/CIO approval for data center development must provide an analysis of alternatives, including opportunities for cloud services, interagency shared services and third-party colocation. Requests also must include an explanation of the net reduction in the agency’s data center inventory that would be facilitated by the new or expanded data center. Expansion of existing centers must meet the same requirements.
  • Cloud-based alternatives: In conformity with the administration’s Cloud First policy, agencies “shall use cloud infrastructure where possible, taking into consideration the cost, elasticity, and resiliency benefits of provisioned environments when planning new mission or support applications,” Scott said.
  • Cloud environments are scalable and allow agencies to provision resources as required, on-demand — an aspect that could be related to matching need with capacity rather than absorbing the cost of having excess data center capacity.

  • Encouraging shared services: Vendors will be particularly interested in the designation of theGeneral Services Administration as the data center shared services managing partner. GSA will be charged with establishing and maintaining a data center shared services marketplace and coordinating shared services for interagency consumption.

    Related GSA functions will include coordinating with OMB to define qualifying operating standards for interagency shared services providers, creating guidance materials for becoming such a provider, and identifying and approving candidate providers. GSA also will create an online inventory of qualified interagency shared services providers.

  • Shrinking data centers: Agencies must continue to shed duplicative and inefficient data center capacity. The policy requires agencies to “principally reduce application, system and database inventories to essential enterprise levels by increasing the use of virtualization to enable pooling of storage, network and computing resources.”

    Compliance options include using provisioned services such as Software as a Service, Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service as much as possible. Such options could boost cloud investments measurably. Another option for agencies would be migrating to better optimized data centers within the agency’s data center inventory.

    Importantly, the proposal provides some rigorous optimization metrics related to consolidation. They include a clarification of the definition of data center for purposes of meeting consolidation goals and stipulate that by the end of fiscal 2018, agencies should “reduce government-wide annual costs attributable to physical data centers by at least 25 percent,” versus 2016 levels. In addition, agencies are required to meet energy-consumption standards related to data center operation.

GAO Offers Consolidation View

The OMB policy proposal was released almost simultaneously with a report by theGeneral Accountability Office on the status of federal data center consolidation. In general, GAO said the government was making progress, but many of the achievements in consolidation were attributable to a relatively few agencies.

“In summary, we found that the 24 departments and agencies participating in FDCCI have collectively made progress on their data center closure efforts, but fell short of OMB’s initiative-wide goal for agencies to close 40 percent of all noncore centers by fiscal year 2015,” David Powner, director of IT management issues at GAO, said in the report.

Agencies had identified 10,584 data centers and closed 3,125 through fiscal year 2015. However, the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior and Treasury accounted for 84 percent of these total closures.

Nineteen of the 24 agencies reported achieving an estimated US$2.8 billion in cost savings and avoidances from fiscal years 2011 to 2015, GAO found. However, the departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security and the Treasury accounted for 86 percent of the savings. If agencies continue with announced plans, another $5.4 billion could be saved by 2019.

“With 2,000 more centers to close or consolidate and $5.4 billion on the table, the new approval process makes sense,” Powner told the E-Commerce Times.

Regarding the impact of elements in the DCOI proposal that will further facilitate consolidation, “I think the push needs to come from meeting the optimization metrics, that will result in additional closures and costs savings,” he said.

Commercial Providers Respond to Proposal

“The new DCOI represents continued progress toward realizing savings based on consolidation and more energy-efficient, highly utilized data centers,” said Jim Menard, managing director ofAccenture Federal Services.

“The focus on measurement of data center optimization, cost savings and closure metrics will help to create transparency and drive agency accountability for DCOI goals,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The proposed policy is a positive development “because it indicates that OMB and the government are actually evolving with the transitions and transformation of data centers and the applications it hosts, while simultaneously moving towards achieving cost savings and increased operational efficiencies,” said Kapil Bakshi, distinguished systems engineer atCisco Federal.

“This policy can actually be viewed as a catalyst for government agencies looking to reach new levels of efficiency and enhanced service delivery,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The DCOI in a sense is catching up with IT developments that already are underway and becoming available through commercial providers.

“Cisco has been working hard to focus on these and related aspects as part of our data center and cloud initiatives for the past few years because we anticipated these transitions taking place in the industry and customers,” Bakshi said, noting that the policy encourages cloud migrations, shared services and optimization.

Cisco has been boosting capabilities with hybrid cloud strategies where multiple clouds and data centers are used to host applications and services in a shared environment.

“This structure allows these applications to be portable and interoperable in standards fashions, and very much aligns with the DCOI,” Bakshi said. The company has been investing in FedRAMP-compliant SaaS offerings, which conform to the proposed transition to cloud and interagency shared services.

As far as the DCOI goals for optimization, sustainability and energy efficiency, Cisco is working on hyperconverged infrastructure offerings that “eliminate silos to bring compute, network and storage into a common operating environment,” he said.

Accenture also has identified infrastructure as an operational target.

“In addition to the data center facilities themselves, action can be taken to improve the infrastructure running inside federal data centers,” said Menard. “Accenture’s vision for digital government includes transformation to an intelligent infrastructure that can monitor itself, predict demand based on utilization and trends, learn through advanced analytics, and protect itself from constantly evolving threats.”

John K. Higgins is a career business writer, with broad experience for a major publisher in a wide range of topics including energy, finance, environment and government policy. In his current freelance role, he reports mainly on government information technology issues for ECT News Network.

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