Feds to cut 800-plus data centers by 2015

CIO Kundra looks for data center consolidation, cloud computing to improve federal IT productivity

WASHINGTON - The White House Thursday announced plans to restructure IT by consolidating federal government data centers and applications, and adopting a so-called "cloud first" policy.

The federal plan, released by federal CIO Vivek Kundra , calls for eliminating at least 800 of the government's 2,100 data centers by 2015, as well as shifting some work to commercial, private and government-run cloud computing systems.

The goal, he said, is to help agencies share services and avoid duplication.

Since his appointment near the start of Obama's administration, Kundra has been a strong advocate of cloud computing , of transparency in IT spending and the use of dashboards.

Kundra has also solicited ideas and opinions on improving IT operations from data center executives in the private sector.

Yesterday's plan, which outlines 25 specific points , tied in a lot of those themes along with some new initiatives.

But Kundra's plan is missing key elements likely important to the people affected by it, namely federal IT workers and the large contractor community that work with them, say analysts.

For instance, they said, the plan is silent on the fate of employees whose data center is targeted for consolidation or migration to commercial cloud services.

Implementing this plan will involve some personnel reorganization in the form of integrated program teams, which may open up new training opportunities, particularly for program managers to run this new environment.

However, getting employee buy-in may have been made a little more challenging by President Barack Obama's recently announced plan to forego federal pay raises for the next two years.

The federal government's $80 billion IT budget is a major source of private sector employment in the area. Thus, consolidation and increasing sharing of IT services by government agencies may also impact contractors who sell and services government systems.

TechAmerica, an industry group, reported this week that it counted 293,000 tech workers in the Washington area, the second largest concentration in the country after New York.

More broadly, the plan doesn't offer an estimated price tag for implementation or an overall savings goal.

Ray Bjorklund, an analyst at Federal Sources Inc., said he likes the plan, but sees it as more of concept at this point that combines the White House's oft-stated IT goals. "This report summarizes many of those initiatives all together in one context," he said.

"It's not quite an action plan," said Bjorklund, but it does tie together the parts needed to make it work. For instance, in discussing the use of cloud environments, the plan talks about the need for "experienced and well-trained IT acquisition professionals."

As outlined, the plan would lead to a more economical IT environment, said Bjorklund.

It's effectiveness, though, could vary among agencies.

Federal agencies could experience trade-offs in a more standardized environment, and what may be good for one agency may have shortcomings for another. "But it will be more efficient, need less physical infrastructure," along with fewer contracts and fewer operating people, Bjorklund said.

Bjorklund said the plan's personnel cuts could affect contractors in particular.

"This is going to require major cultural shift," said Deniece Peterson, an analyst at government market research firm Input. "Who wants to work themselves out of a job?"

The government can't afford to get rid of a whole of people, said Peterson. However, she added, because of "the fact that it isn't stated, I think people in government will make the assumption that this will impact me negatively simply because there has not been a dedicated message. "

"You need the federal workforce and vendor workforce to buy into this in order to accomplish it, but if what you are trying to accomplish could have negative implications on them, then how much progress can you actually make?" said Peterson.

The IT plan may not be a negative, but for now it is an aspect of the plan that is "is missing from the conversation ," she added.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov , or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com .

Read more about it in government in Computerworld's IT in Government Topic Center.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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