Aaron Boyd, Federal Times Senior Writer
Agencies participating in the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative are on track to close almost 3,800 data centers by the end of 2015, consolidating a total of 1.7 million square feet. These consolidation efforts are expected to save agencies a total of $3.3 billion since the initiative began in 2011.
While the initiative is progressing, there's still work to be done, with some 6,000 data centers still in operation across the country.
"There is evidence of progress," according to Anthony Robbins, vice president for Brocade Federal. However, "There's an enormous amount of savings still in front of us."
Agencies are getting closer to the goal of closing 40 percent of centers, but Robbins suggested they should be looking at stiffer reduction goals.
"Those were pretty good goals, but they weren't aggressive enough," he said. "We should be able to run the government on far less than 1,000 data centers."
Following best practices established in the private sector, that number should be achievable, Robbins said.
He pointed to Brocade's own core data center, which supports 3,000 active users in a 10,000 square-foot facility. Maintaining a smaller footprint has led to savings on energy, infrastructure maintenance and real estate.
"If you extrapolate that number and then apply it to agencies in the federal government, you can see there's a dramatic opportunity to save," Robbins said.
The biggest obstacle is access to funding to support consolidation efforts, according to Robbins.
Steve Cronin, director of government sales for Schneider Electric, suggested agencies consider using energy savings performance contracts, which require little or no upfront capital from the government.
"The parties will draft a comprehensive energy savings plan and the [energy savings company] would secure the funding and then guarantee enough energy will be saved over the term of the contract to pay for the project," he explained. "Any excess savings would actually return to the agency."
Under such a contract, the company would assess the energy savings potential for an existing facility and decide whether the rate of return would be enough to pay down the capital cost in a timely manner, usually within 25 years.
The Army, Navy and IRS are currently looking at employing these contracts. The Department of Energy has been using them since 2010.
"It's definitely something that's now gaining momentum," Cronin said, and should be considered by agencies looking for alternate ways to fund consolidation efforts.
The Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), which passed as part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, will also be useful in moving consolidations along, Cronin said.
"It provides the CIO with the tools he or she needs to ensure that energy efficiency is a critical part of the management of the IT portfolio," he said. Legislation on building efficiency would spur that agenda, he added.
Making existing buildings more energy efficient and creating high-efficiency rack-based clusters that take up less space and generate less heat will go a long way to getting a facility's power utilization effectiveness (PUE) ratio — a measure of energy used for computing versus cooling and other housing needs — closer to 1, an optimal rating.
"There have been federal buildings that have a very high PUE ... in the high 2s or 3s," Cronin said, noting many government buildings are over 100 years old. "With a pod approach, we can get an end customer that typically has a PUE of 2 down to a 1.35."
Pegging a direct dollar savings to that kind of PUE reduction is difficult, Cronin said, but "there can be dramatic increases in efficiency" that will lead to real cost savings.
"The government is definitely and has been moving forward with consolidation. Their initial steps were focused around closing data centers and consolidating into existing spaces because it was quicker and it was easier," he said. "Where we've been for the last 18 months is the more time consuming and challenging part: How do you optimize the data centers we have left?"
As technology advances, moving quickly on these initiatives becomes more important, Robbins said.
"So much of the IT money that they have today is being spent on architecture that they built yesterday," he said, noting that funding should be used to build out new architecture. "Yesterday's infrastructure is going to become more costly at an increasing and accelerating rate because of the hyper growth happening in our IT industry."