Data center consolidation serves up savings, but can the feds stomach the cost?

The fragile world economy is taking a stiff beating, and no doubt IT shops are paying close attention. The need to reduce IT operating costs continues to drive consolidation of the highly distributed, complex data centers. Consolidation promises to cut energy consumption and the related costs, reduce management overhead, make data and network security easier to implement and oversee, ease IT compliance, and even reduce server and software costs — particularly in relation to their networking infrastructures.

The U.S. federal government has its sights on data center consolidation. Initiated under former federal CIO Vivik Kundra (who just recently handed the mantle to Steven VanRoekel, the former managing director of the FCC), the plan is designed to slow the sprawl of the government data center footprint and the resulting growth in energy consumption and cost by dramatically reducing IT operations. The goal ultimately was to consolidate the federal government's more than 1,100 data centers.

Now Canada is pushing a similar strategy. Last week, the Canadian government announced plans to streamline its IT operations under a new entity called Shared Services Canada, and includes reducing the number of data centers from 300 today to less than 20 (you can read the press release here) . There have been numerous news reports as well, including this article in the Toronto Sun "Feds streamlining tech services".

In addition to the data center reductions, the Canadian government says it will consolidate more than 100 different email systems to one and streamline networks within and between government departments. Shared Services Canada will oversee data center and network services as well as email, and resources across 44 IT departments and agencies providing these services today will transfer to Shared Services Canada. The Canadian government says the plan will ultimately save millions of dollars.

Don't expect the effort to be smooth sailing. According to the Toronto Sun article, this isn't the first time the Canadian government has tried to rein in IT. In the past, many of the agencies resisted changes that would bring them under one IT umbrella. The transfer of IT operations to Shared Services Canada is mandatory, however, so resistance could be futile.

Of course, consolidation requires cultural change within IT. And we all know cultural change is tough. It's what has slowed the U.S. government's efforts started by Kundra. We're more than eight months into that 25 Point Plan, and reportedly only sixteen data centers have closed (six in the Department of Commerce and 10 in the Department of Health and Human Services), with two more in the Justice Department scheduled to close this year.

I don't doubt that the governments of both Canada and the United States are earnest in their desire to consolidate and ultimately streamline operations and cut costs. But I don't expect those benefits to come any time soon and especially not now – when they're most needed – because such consolidation will take decisiveness, leadership and even sacrifice. If recent months tell us anything, the federal governments aren't up to that task right now.

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