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Government data center consolidation a key priority, but obstacles remain

April 25, 2014

In 2010, the White House issued a directive that instructed federal government agencies to inventory their data center assets. The purpose of this initiative was to prepare agencies for a major government-wide data center consolidation effort.

Now this consolidation is finally underway. Yet at a recent panel discussion, government IT leaders emphasized that this process will be more complex than simply shutting down certain data centers, CIO reported. To fully take advantage of the benefits of consolidation, this effort must be comprehensive and enable agencies to support IT services such as cloud computing and virtualization. Achieving this goal will likely prove a difficult task.

The need to consolidate
CIO noted that in the time since the White House issued its directive, the total number of federal data centers has grown significantly. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that the government currently maintains 7,000 data centers. In 2009 this figure stood at 1,1000. To some extent, this rise may be due to a broader classification of what qualifies as a "data center," but there is no doubt that these IT assets are growing quickly.

Consolidating these data centers will yield a range of benefits, according to CIO. Notably, a more streamlined, unified federal data center landscape will cut federal IT costs while improving efficiency. Specifically, the government would save money in terms of energy usage and the cost of maintaining these physical sites.

Data center consolidation is particularly important now because federal agencies face ever-growing IT demands, as Chris Howard, vice president of a virtualization provider, explained to the news source.

"The government has less money overall, but the requirements aren't shrinking," said Howard, CIO reported. "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?"

Greater consolidation considerations
However, as several of these IT experts emphasized, data center consolidation must be more than simply shutting down seemingly unnecessary sites, as this is not likely to produce significant gains. Howard noted that he'd spoken with one government agency that previously shut down 49 of its several hundred data centers, and yet found that this effort led to no cost savings whatsoever.

"There's got to be more than just saying, 'OK, that location can be shut down, let's move it from here to here,'" said Howard, CIO reported. "You have to have a good plan—and without a good plan, it's just going to be a move from one bad place to another."

Specifically, Howard argued that federal agencies should see data center consolidation as a means of enabling advanced IT services, such as cloud computing and virtualization. The White House previously identified cloud computing as a key priority for federal CIOs, and consolidation can serve to further this goal of greater cloud deployment.

Security challenges
Beyond preparing for the deployment of additional IT services, federal agencies must also reckon with IT security as they move toward greater data center consolidation.

This is a major challenge. A recent SafeNet survey of approximately 600 security and IT executives from around the world found that almost three-fourths of participants view data center consolidation as important. However, of these, 62 percent said they worried about the possibility of losing control of cryptographic keys while making this move. Additionally, nearly three-fifths of participants indicated that they do not have sufficient IT staffing to carry out data center consolidation projects.

"The adoption of new technologies—such as Big Data, mobility and cloud-based services—has pushed data center consolidation to the top of the priority list for many businesses," said Prakash Panjwani, senior vice president and general manager for SafeNet. "Yet it is clear that security concerns combined with a lack of resources are hampering the progress of such transformations."

These same issues are likely to surface as federal agencies make the move to consolidate data centers. These agencies' CIOs should therefore consider hiring more IT professionals to help them plan and executive these projects securely and to enable the adoption of cloud computing and other IT services in the future.

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