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Federal consolidation effort uncovers additional 3,000 data centers

Jun. 12, 2013 - 06:29PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
David A. Powner, director of Information Technology Management Issues with the GAO, testifies June 11 before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in Washington.
David A. Powner, director of Information Technology Management Issues with the GAO, testifies June 11 before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in Washington. (Thomas Brown / Staff)

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Three years into a five-year program aimed at consolidating hundreds of federal data centers, the administration still does not know how many data centers it owns and operates.

As of last week, agencies had a revised inventory of more than 6,000 data centers, nearly double the number of centers they had previously reported, according to David Powner, director of information technology management at the Government Accountability Office. The Defense and Agriculture departments are among the agencies that collectively uncovered an additional 3,000 data centers, mainly small facilities, that had not been included in the previous inventory.

“We’re three years into the data center consolidation effort, and the government still does not know how many centers it has,” said Powner, who testified at a Senate hearing Tuesday on information technology duplication.

The massive undertaking is proving to be a challenge for chief information officers who, oftentimes, lack visibility or oversight into how offices and bureaus spend their IT dollars. Powner said while the Office of Management and Budget is working to improve transparency and oversight of IT investments, inaccurate data remains an issue.

OMB has touted data center consolidation as a major cost-cutting initiative estimated to save $3 billion by 2015. Those numbers, however, seem less certain as the definitions of a federal data center evolve along with the metrics used to track progress toward consolidating those facilities. OMB has recently put less emphasis on the number of centers closed and overall cost savings and more focus on the efficiency of the remaining centers.

The goal was to close 800 of the government’s 2,094 data centers by 2015. OMB’s new goal is to close 40 percent of agencies’ non-core data centers, which has not been defined, Powner said in his written testimony. The total number of data center closures under OMB’s revised goal could not be determined, Powner said.

“We had expected savings coming out of the data center consolidation,” said Rep. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “Those savings really aren’t materializing because if we did have savings, we’re spending them somewhere else essential.”

And “we don’t have real transparency and metrics in what we’re doing,” Coburn said.

The Department of Homeland Security is one of the few agencies that seems to have a handle on its data center inventory. Powner and Coburn praised DHS as the gold standard for data center consolidation because the agency has successfully tracked its data center inventory, how many have been consolidated and how much has been saved by consolidating facilities.

“You can’t do that anywhere else in the federal government,” Coburn said.

Coburn asked Health and Human Services Department CIO Frank Baitman if he could account for all the department’s computers and servers.

“We have a good idea where they are,” but reviews of HHS’ IT portfolio revealed gaps in its inventory, Baitman said.

“So you don’t know where all your stuff is right now?” Coburn asked.

“I would say we have a better idea,” Baitman answered.

“The answer is you don’t know,” Coburn interrupted. “I’m not being critical, I’m just saying we really don’t know at HHS where all the servers are.”

And “that’s part of the problem,” Coburn said. The right information is not being shared to make data-driven decisions.

HHS isn’t alone.

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, who also testified at Tuesday’s hearing, acknowledged there is some overlap in data center consolidation work but said he is working to ensure cost savings are reported in a consistent way. OMB has since integrated data center consolidation efforts into a larger administration initiative known as PortfolioStat, which was designed to give CIOs and other executives a departmentwide view of their IT investments.

Coburn said OMB, however, undermined the authority of CIOs by not mandating they lead PortfolioStat reviews at their agencies, which is now integrated with data center consolidation. CIOs at the National Science Foundation, Social Security Administration, U.S. Agency for International Development and the Veterans Affairs, Treasury, Justice, Agriculture and Transportation departments do not lead PortfolioStat reviews at their agencies.

Powner noted that empowering CIOs to do their jobs is vital to the success of IT consolidation efforts.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said agencies should seize the opportunity to consolidate the additional data centers that were discovered and potentially reap more savings.

“There’s a little bit of give in terms of what’s being anticipated and what was forecasted, but whether it’s $3 billion, $5 billion or $10 billion, this is real money,” Carper said.

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