US agencies can't track savings from data center closings

The government's goal to close 40 percent of its data centers is behind schedule, an auditor says
  • (IDG News Service)
  • — 14 May, 2013 20:58

The U.S. government's effort to close 1,253 of its data centers is falling short of its goal, and agencies haven't been able to track projected cost savings for the initiative, a government auditor told lawmakers.

The White House Office of Management and Budget's goal of saving at least US$3 billion by closing 40 percent of the government's 3,133 data centers is "very realistic," but so far, the OMB and government agencies haven't been able to calculate those savings, said David Powner, director of IT management issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

OMB has told GAO that, so far, the "savings were minimal," Powner told the government operations subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Who knows, really, where it is?"

OMB, in February 2010, set the goal of closing 1,253 data centers by 2015. As of December, agencies had closed 420 data centers, with plans to close another 548 by December 2015, or 285 closures short of the OMB goal, the GAO said in a report released Tuesday.

Eighteen months from the deadline for data center closings, "we have no idea how much we've saved the taxpayers," said Steve O'Keeffe, founder of MeriTalk, an online community for government IT issues.

While OMB's data center closure plan was a good one, the agency is not "bringing it to closure," Powner told the subcommittee. OMB declined to testify during Tuesday's hearing.

OMB isn't tracking cost savings, because the agency has "not yet determined a consistent and repeatable method for tracking cost savings," the GAO report said.

The cost savings estimates for most agencies aren't available, according to a chart released by the subcommittee. Agencies have estimated just $65.3 million in savings in the government's fiscal year 2013, out of the $3 billion goal, according to the chart.

Lawmakers called on OMB and the other agencies to find ways to track the results of the data center closings. "If they're not tracking cost savings, what do they think the consolidation effort is for?" said Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat. "We've got to have some consistent measurement by OMB."

Agencies will are looking at server utilization, energy costs and other criteria in an effort to decide what data centers to close, said Bernard Mazer, CIO at the U.S. Department of Interior. "Many of our servers are at 5 percent, or 10 percent, utilization," he said.

Agencies should be able to get a better handle on cost savings moving forward, because a federal Data Center Consolidation Task Force is working on establishing cost savings metrics, Mazer said.

Since late 2010, OMB has been pushing agencies to consider cloud computing services as an alternative to operating their own data centers. But the U.S. General Services Administration has certified only two cloud service providers for use by government agencies, O'Keeffe said.

"The on ramp to federal cloud is horribly congested," O'Keeffe said. "You can hear the honking on the digital highway right now as software companies line up to get through federal certification."

O'Keeffe called on OMB and other agencies to "set realistic goals in the open and publish the real status on success and failure." Agency CIOs should prioritize what applications they need to continue to operate, and agencies should look to private company efforts to optimize data centers for the best ideas moving forward, he said.

"How long did it take Nasdaq to do its data center optimization?" he said. "What steps did it take? How much money did it save? Can we learn a huge amount from industry? Absolutely, yes."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Topics: U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Government use of IT, Bernard Mazer, Steve O'Keeffe, MeriTalk, U.S. General Services Administration, David Powner, government, U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. White House Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Gerry Connolly
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