The massive federal data center hydra appears to be finally under control. Many data centers have been closed under the 2014 FITARA Act which kicked off federal government data center consolidation, but it seems new data centers are appearing unchecked, like the heads of the legendary hydra. Now clarified directives and a new memorandum have explicitly put a freeze on certain kinds of new data centers, urging a move to public and private cloud services. 

Government agencies using the 2010 Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) and the 2014 Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) as guides have shuttered more than 3,300 data centers, netting the federal government an estimated $2.8 billion in savings.

Annual checks

Besides facilitating the closing of unneeded federal government data centers, FITARA obliges agencies to submit the following information annually:

  • Comprehensive data center inventories
  • Multi-year strategies to consolidate and optimize data centers
  • Performance metrics
  • Timelines for agency activities
  • Yearly calculations of investment and cost savings

To prevent the infamous data center hydra from reappearing, FITARA also requires the administrator of the Office of E-Government and Information Technology to:

  • Establish and publish cost savings and optimization improvements
  • Provide public updates on cumulative cost savings and optimization improvements
  • Review agency data center inventories
  • Create and implement data center management strategies

Which brings us to the Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI), a new memorandum which is expected to save an additional $1.4 billion by close of fiscal 2018. DCOI proposes the path by which all Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990 agencies including the Department of Defense will meet the data center consolidation and optimization requirements of FITARA.

As to who’s responsible, the DCOI proposal mentions, “All data center infrastructure and services, including contracts for third-party data centers and services agency-wide, shall be managed by the agency CIO in a manner consistent with FITARA.”

Notable changes

Next the DCOI proposal moves into specifics, outlining what is expected of the federal agencies. Some of the more notable changes include a drive to move towards cloud  and shared services.

“Thou shall not build new data centers without permission from Federal Chief Information Officer, thank God.”

The federal government, specifically the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in 2010, implemented the Cloud First Policy as part of a 25-point plan to reform federal information technology management. The idea behind “cloud first” is to use commercial cloud technologies where feasible, launch private government clouds when not, and utilize regional clouds with state and local governments if appropriate.

Shuttering facilities means figuring out what to do with the workloads handled by the closed or soon to be closed data centers. To remain consistent with the Cloud First Policy, the DCOI suggests, “Transitioning to provisioned services, including configurable and flexible technology such as Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), to the furthest extent practicable.”

If the workloads are not suitable for cloud services, the DCOI recommends migrating workloads to inter-agency shared services, co-location data centers, or better-optimized data centers within the agency’s data center inventory.

Regarding shared services, the DCOI proposal explains that the General Services Administration (GSA) will oversee shared services used by the agencies, maintain a shared-services marketplace, and coordinate inter-agency shared services.

Optimizing data center facilities: First thing the proposal’s authors do is replace the current data center classifications of core and non-core with tiered and non-tiered. Tiered data centers will have the following:

  • Separate space for IT infrastructure
  • UPS systems
  • Independent cooling systems
  • Backup generators for prolonged outages

The DCOI categorizes all data centers not meeting the above specifications as non-tiered.

Automated energy monitoring, specifically the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric, will be used for the first time. “Agency CIOs are required to ensure that existing tiered data centers achieve and maintain a PUE of less than 1.5 by September 30, 2018,” mentions the proposal. “Effective immediately, all new data centers must implement advanced energy metering and be designed and operated to maintain a PUE no greater than 1.4, and are encouraged to be designed and operated to achieve a PUE no greater than 1.2.”

antonio del pollaiolo   ercole e l'idra e ercole e anteo   google art project lead
Antonio del Pollaiolo, Herculse and the Hydra – Antonio del Pollaiolo / Google Art Project

Besides monitoring energy demands, the DCOI proposal calls for automated monitoring, management, and inventory control of computing equipment. What’s more: the equipment must meet or exceed a target value of 65 percent utilization. The 65 percent signifies the time busy (measured as 1 – percent of time spent idle) measured continuous, and discounted by the fraction of data centers equipped with automated monitoring.

As with shared services, the GSA is mandated to establish an acquisition path for agencies looking to purchase Data Center Infrastructure Management systems.

DCOI target metrics

“The OMB is tasked with measuring the progress each agency using detailed optimization, cost savings, and closure metrics and goals on a quarterly basis, by way of agencies’ data center inventory submissions,” mention the proposal’s authors. Collected data will consist of the following:

  • Inventories of all data center facilities, closure/consolidation plans, and properties of each facility owned, operated, or maintained by or on behalf of the agency
  • Reports speaking to the progress on meeting all optimization metric target values
  • Cost evaluations of operating and maintaining facilities
  • Develop year-by-year target plans for cost savings and cost avoidance

In addition to achieving the above target metrics, the DCOI proposal adds:

“Agencies shall, by the end of the fiscal year 2018, reduce government-wide annual costs attributable to physical data centers by at least 25 percent, relative to the fiscal year 2016 IT infrastructure spending data submitted to the federal IT dashboard. Agencies shall collectively achieve the following amounts of savings in each of fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018.”

dcoi 1
Extended Cost Savings from implementing DCOI

Not done closing data centers

The federal government is still not done closing data centers. “Based on the number of data centers designated by the agencies as already undergoing some part of the closure process, agencies currently plan to close 22 percent of tiered data centers and 50 percent of non-tiered, non-cloud data centers, for a total of 44 percent of all Federal data centers.”

The long-term goal is to close all non-tiered data centers. Also, the proposal authors feel non-tiered data centers — server rooms and closets — pose security risks, can be management challenges, and are an inefficient use of resources. By the end of fiscal year 2018, 60 percent of all non-tiered data centers are to be closed.

Asking for comments

In conclusion, the DCOI proposal is the latest iteration of data center consolidation and optimization requirements hopefully adding to the success achieved by FDCCI and FITARA.

That said, the DCOI authors note the document is still fluid, and the OMB as of March 2nd has opened a 30-day window for public comment. If that is of interest, feedback can be provided at this webpage.

The United States Congress has already taken note of the DCOI proposal. Frank Konkel writing for Nextgov mentions Representative Gerald Connolly, D-Virginia and a big proponent of data center consolidation is excited about DCOI. Konkel quotes Connolly as saying, “Thou shall not build new data centers without permission from FCIO (Federal Chief Information Officer), thank God.”