Optimizing Federal Data Centers

Figure 1: Example of Data Center Server Racks at the Social Security Administration’s National Support CenterIn recent years, federal agencies have moved more and more of their services and operations online, increasing their need for computer power and data storage—and leading to a dramatic rise in the number of federal data centers. These buildings house computer systems and equipment and, as we’ve previously reported, have significant costs for hardware, software, real estate, and electricity.

Despite federal efforts to cut costs by reducing the number of federal data centers, the government still operates thousands of these buildings. Today’s WatchBlog explores some challenges that federal agencies have faced in consolidating and optimizing these centers.

Closing data centers…

In 2010, the Office of Management and Budget launched the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, encouraging agencies to cut costs by reducing their numbers of data centers. And the 24 agencies participating in it have made progress on their efforts to consolidate these centers.

As of August 2016, these agencies reported closing 4,388 of 9,995 data centers—leaving 5,607—with plans to close an additional 1,209 centers through fiscal year 2019. The Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Interior, and Treasury accounted for 84 percent of these closures.

Figure 5: Total Number of Reported Federal Data Centers and Closures, as of August 2016

(Excerpted from GAO-17-388)

…though optimization remains a challenge

Another OMB initiative calls on agencies to optimize their remaining data centers by, among other things, improving their use of space, power, and virtualization (running multiple applications with different operating systems on the same physical machine).

However, we recently found that agencies have made limited progress in meeting OMB’s targets for improving data center performance.

Twenty-Two Agencies’ Progress against OMB Data Center Optimization Metrics, as of February 2017

(Excerpted from GAO-17-448)

More savings possible

OMB’s initiatives have helped federal agencies save about $2.3 billion from closing data centers between 2012 and 2016. Furthermore, agencies reported that they will collectively save an additional $656 million between fiscal years 2016 and 2018. However, this is $3.3 billion less than the estimated $4 billion they had previously planned to save during that time period.

We’ve made over 100 recommendations over the last several years to improve federal efforts to better manage data centers (and even added the management of IT acquisitions and operations, which includes data center consolidation, to our high risk list). To find out more, check out our website at www.gao.gov.

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