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Bumps Ahead For Feds' Data-Center Consolidation

While the federal government has mandated that nearly 40% (more than 800) of its data centers be consolidated by 2015, the results of at least two recent studies indicate several concerns about the implications of the consolidation. According to the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI), federal government data centers quadrupled between 1998 and 2010, from 432 to 2,094, and, on average, they have been using only 27% of their computing power. As a result, federal CIOs are looking to consolidate effectively without compromising data center management by embracing server virtualization, shifting to a "cloud-first" policy and through modular computing.

But federal CIOs are expressing some concerns over the side effects consolidation brings. One issue, they say, is added complexity from diverse server, network and software populations. This could undermine some projected savings of the plan, according to a study of more than 200 federal IT professionals by MeriTalk and commissioned by IT vendor Juniper Networks. The study found that as the number of federal data centers shrinks, the remaining facilities will need to grow larger and accommodate more systems—60% would run 20 or more operating systems and 48% using 20 or more management software applications. Survey respondents, who estimated that their computing needs would grow by nearly 40% during the next five years, said they were worried that the cost of managing larger and more complex data centers would significantly reduce overall benefits from consolidation.

Three quarters, 76%, said that any increases in data center capabilities would be limited by the need for interoperability among hardware and software in the existing infrastructure. Respondents also predicted that their agencies will require 37% more computing capacity during the next five years. The MeriTalk study also found that existing data centers are already at 61% of utilization--meaning that existing or new data centers will need to make room for a 40% increase in demand, and that the increase in computing capacity will drive data center infrastructure to expand by 34% to meet that demand.

Some 38% of workloads are currently virtualized, the survey found, with 70% reporting that increased latency for applications and security services/policies is a problem. Further, 69% reported that the unpredictability of system latency is a problem. With virtualization expected to handle 64% of workloads in federal data centers by 2015, both latency and unpredictability will compound the challenge for federal IT professionals, the study says.

And a KPMG study, Exploring the Cloud: A Global Study of Governments’ Adoption of Cloud, shows that the public sector is lagging behind the private sector in moving to the cloud, with only 12% of government executives saying that they will allocate over 10% of their agencies’ annual IT resources to cloud computing in 2012. The study found that the figure is expected to more than double, to 28%, by the end of the year. One of the issues with adoption of cloud services is security, which is "a moving target," says study respondent Dave McClure, associate administrator of the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at the General Services Administration (GSA). He also said he wants providers to have clear ideas on how to manage cloud in a large, legacy environment, according to the study.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense (DoD), which at 800 data centers has more than any other government entity, plans to close 148 data centers by the end of 2012. A spokeswoman said the DoD is meeting all of its targets.

Any consolidation effort that seeks to combine differing hardware and software into a cohesive platform is often "fraught with peril," notes Sam Barnett, directing analyst, Data Center and Cloud at research firm Infonetics. He says this is the main reason many consolidation efforts are not as successful as they could be.

"Extensive research and exhaustive planning make the process much easier," says Barnett, using HP as an example of a large firm that undertook a massive consolidation effort and reduced its IT staff from more than 19,000 workers to 8,000. The computer maker also consolidated its data centers from 85 to six, and reduced its number of supported applications from 6,500 to 1,500, he adds. "It was a painful transition, but their research and planning did pay off in the end. The cost savings were ultimately realized, and the end user community supported is largely happy."

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