FCC, FBI Struggle with Data Center Consolidations

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-07-06 Print this article Print


There are really only two ways to consolidate such data centers. The first is to physically move the data centers to a new location. The second is to contract for, and then build, a new data system that could exist in the new location on new hardware.

To accomplish either of these, such a move would have to be put into the agency's budget, be approved, have the money appropriated, have the process put out for bids, and then have the contract issued. Finally, after all of that, the consolidation could take place.  

Even in a fairly simple consolidation, such as within a single agency with compatible systems, the process can take years. For a major consolidation, the process could easily consume a decade. Sometimes the process is so difficult that it simply can't be done within the constraints placed on agencies by congressional limits, despite wishful thinking from the White House. 

Two major system consolidations at federal agencies over the last few years illustrate the difficulties. The Federal Aviation Administration has been trying to modernize and consolidate its data systems and data centers for years. While there has been some progress in updating the computer hardware by making it compatible with obsolete systems, the major upgrade that needs to happen to make the FAA's computers fully interoperable simply hasn't happened.  

The problem? There's never been enough money appropriated when it was needed, and the procurement process has been so convoluted that actually getting an upgrade done takes years. Worse, congressional interference with the requirements that the FAA puts on its bids leads to cost overruns, and that in turn requires more money, and that money isn't there. 

The FBI also tried to consolidate its data systems so that it could actually fight crime more effectively. But because of the difficulty of the process, from getting a contractor to create new software to getting systems to communicate with each other, the process took awhile. Then coupled with a constantly changing set of requirements, ranging from demands to communicate with systems at the intelligence agencies to developing terrorism databases, the FBI effort basically stalled.  

So is the federal data center consolidation outlook as dismal as McCafferty suggests in his article, and as the MeriTalk survey suggests? Actually, it's probably worse. It may be impossible, unless Congress frees up significant funding so that it can happen and also allows the agencies to manage the process without meddling. 

But in a down economy, it's far too easy for lawmakers running for re-election to use a federal data center initiative that they cut from the budget as a trophy that they can point to with a claim in their campaign materials that they saved millions of dollars. 

But in reality, such cuts, and the meddling that goes with them, cost huge amounts of money in the long term, and in addition it wastes money, requires extra staff, and it's a huge energy waste. If federal IT managers were able to consolidate as managers can in the private sector, there might be hope. But in the real world of federal IT today, the White House initiative is nothing more than a fantasy.

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs 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.

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