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Senate looks to push U.S. gov't data center consolidations

Senate looks to push U.S. gov't data center consolidations

While Congress tries to get government consolidations on track, Gartner says the private sector has same problem

WASHINGTON - Federal agencies aren't moving fast enough to consolidate government data centers, according to U.S. lawmakers. To remedy that, a bipartisan bill that sets "hard deadlines" is on track to be adopted by the U.S. Senate.

The three main sponsors of the data center legislation are lawmakers Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who believe their legislation will add oversight and regular reporting to the process, and help to ensure the deadlines are met. But just how effective will legislation be?

The federal government is hardly alone in running into consolidation difficulties, according to Gartner analyst Rakesh Kumar.

Gartner says that many large companies have too many data centers. And because they have not aggressively consolidated the centers, they're are giving up saving millions of dollars -- maybe hundreds of millions of dollars -- over a period of years.

The main reason consolidating data centers is a struggle is politics; consolidation moves scare employees, Kumar said. "Organization politics actually stops a number of organizations," he said.

The federal government wants to close 40%, or 1,253, of its 3,133 data centers by the end of 2015, with $3 billion in savings possible. But it is falling behind schedule by nearly 300 data centers and the savings have been minimal, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The consolidation bill was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week.

The GAO doesn't blame internal resistance or politics for delays, but does say there's a need for "strengthened oversight" to ensure that the consolidation will happen. Lawmakers are pointing to the GAO's report to make the case for legislation.

According to the GAO, the major challenges in the federal consolidation involve moving to cloud platforms and virtualization. Some agencies didn't have the expertise to make that move, or had trouble budgeting for on-demand, scalable cloud services.

In a report, Kumar recommends that firms should have no more than two data centers per continent, with one data center acting as a backup, for a maximum of 12 globally. Many firms have dozens of data centers, often acquired through consolidations, and are paying excessive costs as a result, he said.

Ray Bjorklund, who heads government market research firm BirchGrove Consulting, wonders how effective legislation will be in moving the consolidation project ahead.

If the administration "couldn't make it work, how is a law going to make it work?" said Bjorklund, who also wondered "what's the penalty" for federal agencies that fall behind.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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