Agencies Continue to Face Data Center Consolidation Challenges
As part of GAO’s recently released evaluation of agency data center planning progress, the oversight agency discussed federal challenges to consolidation progress. According to GAO, many of the challenges it reported in 2011 still remain while some are less prevalent. In 2012, GAO reported 20 agency data center consolidation challenges, down from 37 reported in 2011. Overall 25 challenges that were reported in 2011 were not reported again in 2012. However, nine new challenges have emerged.
The chart below details the challenges that GAO identified in 2011 and 2012:
The most prevalent challenges continue in the area of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) itself. Fifteen agencies reported difficulty in obtaining power usage information, as required by OMB. For example, a NASA official told GAO that only one of its 79 data centers possessed metering capabilities. USAID reported that none of its facilities were metered and that obtaining power information from the building landlords was difficult.
Ten agencies reported that providing good quality asset inventories was also a challenge, up from only four agencies in 2011. An EPA official stated that most of their server rooms were within larger office spaces in GSA buildings, making it difficult to obtain cost information. DoD reported that the inventory effort was a challenge due to the sheer size of the organization.
Nine agencies reported difficulty with acquiring necessary funding for consolidation efforts, down from 11 in 2011. Energy stated that they had little to no funding available to invest in data center measurement systems, server utilization assessments, or consolidation projects. Transportation and Justice reported challenges in obtaining upfront funding for consolidation efforts before cost savings accrue.
Previously reported challenges that showed the most improvement include agencies’ ability to meet tight planning deadlines for OMB’s milestones. In 2011, 11 agencies reported this area as a challenge, but no agencies reported this as a challenge in 2012. Additionally, accepting cultural change that is part of consolidation was reported as less of a challenge this year, with only five agencies expressing this as a challenge as opposed to 15 agencies in 2011. For example, Energy found that there was a perceived need by agency employees to own their data centers or server rooms in order to be able to fulfill their business or mission needs.
The only area of technical difficulty reported by agencies existed in planning a migration strategy with seven agencies reporting it as a challenge, which is up from two who reported it as a challenge last year. According to Transportation, it is a long process to identify possible consolidations, present them to management, then to users, and then work the technical side of migrations. Application mapping is also difficult and time-consuming according to Transportation.
GAO asserts that the three most reported challenges directly impact the ability of FDCCI to meet its goals: gathering power usage information, developing good quality data center inventories, and acquiring the funding needed for consolidation. GAO stresses that it is important for OMB to continue to provide leadership and guidance to the initiative through utilization of the existing accountability infrastructure of the Data Center Consolidation Task Force to monitor implementation.
As the FDCCI matures, agencies are starting to realize successes, but challenges still remain. The decrease in the number and scope of the challenges is encouraging. To continue to combat challenges, agencies should maintain open communication, and sharing of best practices and consolidation lessons learned. Additionally, GAO recommends that OMB define any future revisions to consolidation guidance in memorandum and post them to the FDCCI public website. GAO further recommends OMB ensure that agencies utilize OMB’s Total Cost of Ownership model as a standard planning tool.