IT consolidation on US government agenda

Computing costs across the Federal Government may be slashed by up to a quarter under new plans by the White House IT office. Patrick Thibodeau reports

The Bush administration believes it can cut the US government’s annual IT infrastructure costs — which are estimated to be US$22.4 billion (NZ$35.5 billion) for the 2007 fiscal year — by 16-27% through increased consolidation, standardisation and interoperability. Karen Evans, who heads the White House’s IT office at the Office of Management and Budget, told Computerworld US that “potential government-wide cost savings are between $3.7 billion and $6 billion per year if the federal government operates as one enterprise similar to private industry corporations”.

IT vendors and federal agencies have confidentially submited ideas on how to accomplish that goal and by next month, the White House wants to have a framework in place for guiding the proposed changes. A final plan is expected to be ready by year’s end, according to the White House, which set the cost-reduction goal in March.

The government’s overall priorities include reducing total cost of ownership, promoting a modular approach to system design and ensuring that installations of proprietary technology don’t affect interoperability.

The White House isn’t necessarily moving toward a purge of legacy systems, but Tom Berti, datacentre manager at the US Census Bureau, says he thinks he can move as much as 80% of his IT environment to blade servers running a combination of Linux and Windows over the next three or four years.

Berti manages 4,600 square metres of raised-floor datacentre space, with more than 1,000 pieces of hardware running a laundry list of operating systems, such as Tru64, OpenVMS, HP-UX, AIX, Solaris, Linux, Windows and others. Now, the Census Bureau is starting to shift applications to blades from IBM and Egenera.

“More than anything, I would like to have a standard configuration,” Berti says. “How can you have a [workable] patch management strategy if all the operating systems are different?”

He won’t forecast the cost savings that the Census Bureau could see as a result of the planned shift, but says “there are a lot of economies to [having] two manufacturers and two operating systems — that’s what it comes down to.”

For example, maintenance and training costs should be reduced, he says. He also expects to save money by centralising systems management and buying his operating system software in bulk. In addition, the agency is adopting more of a utility computing approach that should simplify and speed the provisioning of system resources, he says.

There will be some exceptions to the blade server switch over, such as the continued use of larger servers for applications that require symmetrical multiprocessing capabilities. Berti has installed about 170 blades so far and has just begun putting them into production use after an initial testing phase. The blade servers shouldn’t cause power or cooling problems in his datacentre, which is a relatively new facility, he says.

Ray Bjorklund, an analyst at consultancy Federal Sources, says some US defence agencies have been aggressive about pursuing IT consolidation and modernisation initiatives, but he says that isn’t the case at most federal agencies.

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