News Analysis: Consolidating federal data centers takes more than just overcoming interagency jealousies. Congressional oversight and the intricacies of the budget-approval process can delay major IT projects for years.
In his article in eWEEK's sister publication, Smarter
Technology, Dennis McCafferty reports on the results of a study that shows that
White House efforts at consolidating federal data centers to save money and
improve operational and energy efficiency will be a tough nut to
As McCafferty points out, the
agencies are territorial, they don't want to use private vendors, and
relatively few federal IT managers believe in the process.
The article references a MeriTalk survey that reveals
that federal managers don't have the guidance they need to close down unneeded
data centers, they don't have operational guidance about how they're supposed
to consolidate with another agency, and they don't have any assurance that
their needs will be met if another agency is in charge of their data center.
But in reality, the problem is a lot worse than the survey indicates.
First, the current discussion about data center
consolidation assumes that existing federal data centers can be consolidated at
all. Second, it assumes that the operational needs of an agency operating a
potential data center can meet the needs of tenant agencies.
Then there's the whole question of security-right now,
each agency that requires a secure computing environment and requires security
clearances for its people is under orders to satisfy its own clearance
standards, meaning a security clearance for the Department of Defense isn't
directly usable by say, the Department of Homeland Security. Likewise, the
security standards for data centers are different.
But even that isn't the biggest problem. The biggest
problem is the morass of federal procurement rules over the years that have
mandated that agencies buy from the lowest bidder. Because of this, federal
data centers are heavily populated by systems that run a single application or
set of applications. Frequently they don't even communicate with each other,
much less with systems in other agencies.
So while there are standards for federal data centers,
such as support for a Unix-like user interface, this isn't the same thing as
compatibility. Unless interoperability with some other system is required by
the standards set in the original procurement, then there's not going to be any
interoperability, if only because it adds to the cost.
So the result is that federal IT managers are faced with
having a vast array of small data centers that generally meet only a few
functions, serve only part of an agency's needs and aren't interoperable with
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.