Closing U.S. Data Centers: Show Us the Money


By Tony Kontzer

Since Steven VanRoekel took over the U.S. CIO post earlier this year, the data center consolidation plan he inherited from predecessor Vivek Kundra has grown increasingly daunting. And VanRoekel is meeting the growing challenge with ever-more-aggressive goals.

Less than two months ago, VanRoekel, in his first public address, said he'd expanded the definition of data center that Kundra had established for the purposes of consolidation from a minimum of 500 square feet to include network closets as small as 100 square feet. That new parameter meant a target of 2,900 data centers, of which VanRoekel wanted 1,000 phased out, up from Kundra's goal to eliminate just over 800 of 2,100 data centers.

But then, in a post on the White House blog this week, VanRoekel revealed that the data center count has ballooned to 3,133. Now, emboldened by the fact that federal agencies currently have plans to close 1,080 data centers by 2015, ahead of the pace he and Kundra have envisioned, Van Roekel is raising the stakes, calling for the closure of 1,200 data centers by 2015. He didn't update the projected savings that would result, but given that the figure was $5 billion under the previous estimate, it's safe to assume that the estimated savings is now closer to the $6 billion mark.

Further hedging against the possible discovery of additional federal data centers that are currently unaccounted for, VanRoekel says he wants to eliminate 40 percent of whatever the total turns out to be. (Far be it for me to point out that 40 percent of 3,133 would actually be 1,254, or 54 more data centers than he's currently targeting.)

But all these numbers represent little more than talk without hard evidence that the plan is working. Along those lines, VanRoekel shared an early success story in his blog post, detailing a recent consolidation effort at the U.S. Census Bureau that resulted in the closing of a contractor-operated 6,570-square-foot data center, a move that will eliminate $1.7 million in annual costs starting in the coming year. What's more, the combination of consolidation with increased adoption of virtualization and cloud computing has enabled the Census Bureau to slash its data center power consumption costs by 10 percent.

None of this should be jaw-dropping to any CIO who has his or her finger on the pulse of today's IT trends. Most forward-looking companies have tapped virtualization and cloud computing technologies to reduce their data center footprints, and thus achieve significant savings on hardware and power. But few CIOs can bring about the sort of large-scale improvements that VanRoekel hopes to oversee. Even fewer CIOs are facing the kind of public pressure to bring down costs that VanRoekel is confronting as the CIO of a nation that's struggling to keep its tattered economy afloat.

So far, it appears that VanRoekel isn't shying away from that pressure. He promised in his post that there will continue to be tangible evidence--not just rhetoric--as additional agencies move to meet his mandate.

"These steps are only the beginning," he wrote. "Over the next year, more and more agencies will begin to follow the Census Bureau's lead and realize data center savings."

And we'll all be here, all 300-plus million Americans, waiting to hear how much money VanRoekel's saving us.


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