Agencies building trust to reduce data centers

Friday - 1/14/2011, 7:13am EST

WFED's Jason Miller

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

If agencies are going to succeed in reducing the number of data centers across government by 800 by 2015, chief information officers have to engender more than just culture change.

Over the years, it has not been enough to require changes to agency infrastructure by edict-whether from the Office of Management and Budget or from Congress. Agency officials say success comes from developing confidence that all stakeholders understand and accept the changes.

Take the Energy Department. Bill Turnbull, the associate CIO for advanced technology and systems integration, said the department has been consolidating their data centers for several years, hoping to get down to two from 89. But Energy is taking a crawl, walk and then run approach to get business owners used to the new way of doing business.

"We have a three-step approach, housing, hosting and application sharing," Turnbull said during a panel discussion sponsored by AFCEA-Bethesda, Md. chapter. "This is a good way to build acceptance and slow change breaks down resistance."

Turnbull said housing means bringing an application into their new data center. The new data center likely is more energy efficient and has a better security perimeter.

Hosting means retiring legacy servers and merging applications onto a virtual machine. This will reduce the number of servers Energy supports, he said.

And sharing means to actually share software so Energy reduces the number of licenses and application administrators they need to have.

Turnbull said there are a couple of reasons to use this three-step approach. He said first off, it's difficult to move everyone to the sharing step.

"This allows the users, owners of the applications, to develop trust in the centralized service so they begin to see this is in fact it is a good data center," Turnbull said. "It is, in fact, reliable and they get the same level of service they are used to."

Energy is one of several agencies out in front of the OMB mandate.

OMB and the CIO Council determined data centers have grown from about 430 in 1999 to 1,100 in 2009 to more than 2,400 in 2010. OMB issued a memo in October detailing agencies expectations over the next year. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced in December agencies will reduce the number data centers governmentwide over the next three years.

The State Department has been reducing its data centers for several years, said Cindy Cassil, the agency's director of systems integration in the CIO office.

She said State's goal is to reduce the number of data centers in the United States from 11 to two. She said State supports about 77,000 square feet of data center building space, but will reduce it to about 22,000 square feet over the next few years.

Part of the way they are going to achieve this change is by getting buy-in from business owners by offering services on a private cloud.

"Right now we are offering infrastructure-as-a-service," Cassil said. "We are trying to work around the political issue about people still wanting to maintain their applications. The IT staffs are very powerful. They really advice the business they need to be involved. Right now I would say we have 99.9 percent cooperation with our business side with our business side because they really like our model at this point. We offer the platform and the storage, and it's free to them if they come in and virtualize."

Cassil said a lot of the savings will come from energy savings. State hired HP to monitor the power usage of their current data centers. State will use this as a baseline to compare against the two new data centers they are building. Cassil added that the western facility likely will be LEED certified gold.

The Homeland Security Department is going green in a different way. Margie Graves, DHS deputy CIO, said the department's new data facilities are in older buildings-an old nuclear bunker and a former candy factory.

The potential cost savings, whether from energy efficiency or reducing the number of licenses or applications, is driving this effort across the government.

Additionally, data center consolidation will free up employees to work on other mission critical projects.

Turnbull said some of Energy's employees need further training, but there isn't a lack of work for these workers.

Cassil added that some data center employees were wearing two hats-running the data center and running another program such as the Local Area Network. With the consolidation, State expects to let those employees take off one of those hats.