As government CIOs begin consolidating their agency data centers, they should leave the forklift in park.
That was the message senior officials in the government IT sphere delivered in a panel discussion on how to maximize return on investment through overhauling the sprawling federal data center apparatus - which numbers well into the thousands of facilities.
Its not enough simply to pack up one set of servers and reshelf them in another location. Government IT leaders stress that any data center overhaul cannot simply be an IT-driven initiative that amounts to a check-box exercise. The process should entail a considered engagement with the business lines of the agency, they say.
"Who are all the different stakeholders? Obviously the business system owners, those [who] have systems and applications residing in the data center," says Darren Ash, acting CIO at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
As Ash puts it, this was always intended to be more than a "forklift" move of servers to a new data center. It presents opportunities to think differently about hosting and housing, as well as the type of equipment to use.
Data Center Consolidation Tough When Budgets Drop But Requirements Don't
The press for consolidating data centers within federal agencies is hardly a grass-roots phenomenon but, rather, comes in response to the Office of Management and Budget's data center consolidation initiative.
That directive, promulgated by the White House in 2010, instructed agencies to take an inventory of their data center assets and develop a plan for shrinking that footprint and transitioning to more efficient technologies such as cloud computing and virtualization.
In the time since, OMB's tally of the total number of data centers the federal government maintains has risen sharply, with estimates now hovering around 7,000. OMB has attributed the increase in part to a shift in the way the government defines a data center - but some critics in Congress have chastised agencies for failing to accurately account for their IT assets and moving too slowly on their consolidation initiatives.
The potential to cut costs while improving efficiency is at the heart of the federal data center consolidation initiative. Scaling down the data center footprint can trim expenses on a variety of fronts, including energy usage, the capital costs of maintaining physical facilities and the labor force needed to staff those sites.
That initiative takes on an added urgency at a time when federal agencies are operating under constrained budgets while dealing with a rising demand for services.
"We have to figure out how to do more with less, right? The government has less money overall, but the requirements aren't shrinking," says Chris Howard, vice president of federal sales with the virtualization provider Nutanix. "The requirements are growing every day, so how do we reduce the overall footprint but still maintain the support and effectiveness of what we're delivering as a mission-critical application?"
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