Federal IT Workers Dubious of Data Center Consolidation Plan

Many federal IT employees are unsure how best to flatten networks.

In the wake of the June 10 memorandum from President Barack Obama calling on the U.S. government to pare down its number of data centers, many federal employees are doubtful of the proposed time line to accomplish the task, according to a new report.

"The timing is a big issue: Three-quarters said they were doubtful [the consolidation] can be done within the timeline" of beginning to report on inventory by the third quarter of fiscal 2011, according to Mark Weber, president of NetApp, underwriter of the study conducted by online research firm MeriTalk.

"People are supportive of where this is going; it's just a question of when and how," Weber added.

Still, 37 percent of federal workers surveyed aren't sure that the number of data centers will be reduced, while 12 percent don't believe it will happenl. Some 86 percent blame government culture as the biggest roadblock to data center consolidation.

"There's a strong cultural aspect. People don't want to give up their equipment. They don't know who is getting consolidated -- or whose jobs will be lost," Weber said.

There's also a major dispute regarding the right number of data centers, and how many to have in the future, according to Weber. While the Office of Management of Budget says there are 1,100 data centers in the federal civilian government, stakeholders' ideas for an optimal number run the gamut: 13 percent say there should be 900 data centers, 17 percent say 700, 14 percent say 500 and 19 percent say 300.

"The answers are all over the map," said Weber, who added that it could be more effective to target utilization and efficiency rates rather than specific numbers of data centers.

Also registering in the survey were concerns about security, with only 51 percent of those polled believing it would be likely that their agency would give up its data centers and utilize services from another agency. Forty-seven percent expressed concerns about using a data center from a private company.

However, there were some encouraging results. Almost half -- 45 percent -- think OMB's plans to move data storage to the cloud are realistic, and 76 percent agree that shared infrastructure platforms are the best option.

"Clearly people see cloud as having a role, but they aren't sure what or how," Weber said. Or how long: Seventy-two percent of workers said they think it will take up to five years to move to a cloud-based solution as its primary processing environment.

"Significantly, what we're not seeing is people saying, ‘Consolidation is not the right answer.' Nobody is fighting that, which is incredibly encouraging. The fighting is over dates and numbers, and that's to be expected," said Weber.

"We need strong leadership not just to mandate but to preach and spread [data center consolidation]. With the right leadership, we're headed there," he added.

The survey findings are from a report, "2010 Federal Data Center Demolition Derby," based on an in-person survey of 143 federal IT professionals and systems integrators.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff reporter covering defense and national security.

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