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Feds Discover 1,000 More Government Data Centers 246

1sockchuck writes "The US government has 2,094 data centers, nearly 1,000 more than previous estimates, according to an updated inventory by federal agencies. The finding underscores the scope of the challenge facing the Obama administration as it seeks to streamline the government's IT infrastructure in a massive data center consolidation."
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Feds Discover 1,000 More Government Data Centers

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @10:55AM (#33882658)

    Any Presidential administration that comes into the federal government promising to combat bureaucracy and duplication is either lying (most likely) or is truly epically deluded. No agency in the federal government is going to let some johnny-come-lately President who's going to be gone in 4-8 years come in and fundamentally change the way they've worked for 60 years or more. Oh sure, they'll TELL him they'll do it. They kiss the ass of their new director (aka his political toadie appointee, also to be gone in 4-8 years). But the most they'll *actually* do is stall, make token gestures, lie, and basically find other ways to run out the clock until the next administration comes in (with a whole new set bullshit streamlining promises). There are long-term professionals in these agencies who've been playing out that scenario since the Carter administration (maybe even some old Nixon/Ford guys).

    Bill Clinton said it best (and I'm paraphrasing here) "The most shocking thing I discovered about the Presidency is that people don't do what you say."

  • Big company (Score:4, Insightful)

    by captaindomon ( 870655 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:02AM (#33882708)
    Eh, if you've worked in a multi-billion dollar F100 company this isn't surprising at all. Any random department can buy a couple of servers and set up their own "data center", and when you have 100,000 employees, it's hard to keep track of. Now imagine you are a multi-trillion dollar company, which is basically what the federal government is, with three million employees. Things get complicated.
  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:05AM (#33882752) Homepage Journal

    Why don't we provide a small number of locations, the destruction of any of which would significantly cripple our government. I can't imagine who would find such a consolidation helpful to their goals.

  • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:07AM (#33882776)
    I see the same sort of confusion over the term "server room." At my institution, all sorts of weird things are "server rooms" -- everything from a dedicated room with rows of rackmounts, backup power, HVAC, etc. to a closet with a few switches and a NAS in it. How many server rooms do we have? Who knows? I would not be surprised if many of these "data centers" turned out to be nothing more than a single rack in a field office somewhere.
  • by jonescb ( 1888008 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:09AM (#33882810)

    Bill Clinton said it best (and I'm paraphrasing here) "The most shocking thing I discovered about the Presidency is that people don't do what you say."

    Isn't that how it's supposed to work? If everybody had to do as he said, we'd call the position Dictator instead of President. The president has very limited power, which is a good thing.

  • by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:10AM (#33882826) Homepage

    In the case of Obama, I think he truly believed that he would be able to change things once he was in a position of "real" power. Except when he got elected, he found out that the president isn't a position of "real" power after're hands are tied when it comes to MANY things.

    I don't think his promises have been broken, so much as had reality injected in them.

  • by Securityemo ( 1407943 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:11AM (#33882836) Journal
    I've never been involved in data center-ing, but call whomever owns the last jump to it (and presumably has records of the cables running to it) and ask?
  • Your taxes at work (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hessian ( 467078 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:17AM (#33882904) Homepage Journal

    In a normal business, you serve a client.

    In government, the client is yourself, and you must "justify" that position with lots of public activity.

    That activity does not need to be effective, it only needs to look effective. By definition, there's less risk in ineffective activity.

    This is why government is often ineffective, and why both left and right wing parties want to streamline it.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:19AM (#33882934)
    Yes, but most people assume the President has a lot more power than they actually do. You come in as President, you appoint a new director of agency X, you tell him to do such-and-such at that agency, he says okay, and then he goes off and doesn't do it. Your own cabinet will often lie to you, deceive you, outright ignore you, stall you, etc. And everyone is just waiting around for the day when you'll be gone (which they know will be, at most, 8 years from now). Any given federal employee is way more worried about covering their ass and sticking around for the long-term than with any directive you might issue. No one gives a shit about your campaign promises or legacy except you and maybe a few members of your cabinet. It's like being the captain of a boat on the very of mutiny--for 4-8 years.
  • Really a good idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath ( 636671 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:23AM (#33882966)

    My impression is that in most cases, consolidation can reduce apparent IT costs, but produces a not just centralized computers but a centralized bureaucracy.

    And when you have a centralized bureaucracy, the individual agencies will be subject to data centers that act on their "requests" more slowly if at all. (Note that when you lose control over your data center, what used to be an order now becomes a request.)

    In general, it seems like centralizing things can help with some issues, but creates a boatload of other issues.

  • Re:Big company (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:41AM (#33883196) Homepage
    You do realize that 500 sq. feet is just over a 22 foot square room. That's not that big at all. I've often seen small "data centers" of this size in government buildings. Granted, I live in Canada, but I imagine the US is the same. Each little organizational unit wants to manage all their own stuff to increase their importance, and make it look like they are doing something. So they all have their own little data center. It's all to play their little game. If you don't spend your whole budget, then they figure you don't need the money, so the following year they cut it. If you do spend it all, then you can claim that you are underfunded and possibly get your budget raised. There's always a mad rush at the end of the fiscal year to ensure that all the money is spent.
  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:57AM (#33883428)
    Most of the professional level federal employees are protected by laws and union contracts (only the director is an at-will employee that the President can hand his walking papers whenever he feels like it). That means you would have to go through Congress, and maybe even the courts, for the changes needed to just start firing people (or zeroing out their budgets). And good luck with that.
  • by AMuse ( 121806 ) <slashdot-amuse.foofus@com> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @11:59AM (#33883448) Homepage

    Before everyone gets all spun up on government waste, inefficiency, etc - I'd like to point out that numbers like these are never accurate. (For the record, I work for the feds, in the IT field).

    The problem with "The feds have X datacenters" as a metric is that various audits occur at different times and by different auditors. These auditors almost always have differing definitions for what a datacenter actually is.

    In one audit, a group can come through and define "Datacenter" as a big room where servers are co-located and services run on behalf of others. They'll find 2 at my center. Then a year later, a different group comes in and defines "Datacenter" as anywhere that more than 5 computers are running and left on all night. They'll find 200 at my center. Yes, this actually happened! The auditors came through dozens of science labs, found project servers sitting in the labs, and labeled each lab a datacenter.

    Now here is the trick to why the statistics are complete mush. A normal IT guy would walk through the lab and say "Hey, that server should be in a datacenter!" -- but the auditors make the reverse conclusion. "Hey, this lab is a datacenter".

    Yes, there is waste in the federal sphere and we absolutely need to take action to be more efficient at all levels. However, this article is basically pushing a number that came from someones' imagination, and pretending it's meaningful.

  • by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:09PM (#33883552)

    Or you just pay out the contract...

  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:15PM (#33883616)

    The other reason the Tea Party folks have no chance is that they are a hilarious minority.

    They are loud and entertaining so they get lots of time on the news, but they aren't the mainstream Americans they think they are.

  • by whitroth ( 9367 ) <whitroth&5-cent,us> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:25PM (#33883704) Homepage

    There's a real problem with this analysis, esp. when you start defining what I'd call server rooms, things at 500'sq, as datacenters. We've got two large rooms, one probably bordering on that 500 ft, and no, you *cannot* "consolidate" that into a large one, for a number of reasons... like purpose and usage. If you're doing ordinary services, yeah (assuming you can trust them to keep them working, as opposed to the Department-wide login that just went down two days in a row - test boxes? h/a failover fallback? Huh?), but for special purposes - high performance computing, doing research, or some things I'm sure the military uses - there's no way to consolidate. You'd get long lines waiting for time on the systems, when the users are doing something so intensive that on small clusters they take *days* to run.

    You just can't lump it all with dumb, large boxes.


    ObDisclaimer: I work for a federal contractor, on site.

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @12:45PM (#33883954) Homepage

    Uh, pride in a job well done won't get them anywhere. Trust me - pride in quality is no better in the federal government than in any major corporation. In the company I work for we'd still have data centers in every closet in every building and armies of shadow IT if business leaders didn't know that they'd be shown the door if they didn't comply with corporate directives.

    Who wants to depend on some external server group to maintain their servers, when instead they could just have their own group doing the work for a mere $500k/yr or whatever. It isn't like the money comes out of their paycheck - in fact, the larger their budget, the more money they have for bonuses, and the higher their own position to justify the spending allowance.

    In corporations this is tempered by the fact that if the company doesn't turn a profit then the investors will clean house. Plus, the salaries of the middle managers interfere with the ability of the senior executives to pay themselves bonuses, since the company can't just go to Congress and ask for more money. If a company wants money they have to earn it - no matter how important it is that they get it.

    I don't think that people working in industry are any more or less virtuous than those working in government. However, government offers a different set of perverse incentives. Those tend to lead to massive bureaucracy and organizations that seemingly exist only to serve themselves.

  • by gnieboer ( 1272482 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @01:39PM (#33884676)

    OK, I'll give you some straight answers as to why that's not going to happen, even if you were president tomorrow:

    1- End the Wars. Actually, the wars are ending. But let's say tomorrow is your first day in office. Your order is "Redeploy all the units". The CJCS says "Yes, sir". First they need some time to come up with a plan on how to do what you want. So MINIMUM 60 days. Ever tried to get a family of five in the car for a 5-day road trip?? How many hours did that take? OK, now multiply that by 50,000. Moving a force the size of what we have is not a small feat when it's in a land-locked country halfway around the world and we can't just drive down to the coast and hop on a boat. So to make sure it's done right and we don't give $20B worth of stuff to the Taliban when we leave, a plan is a good thing.
    So then they come back with the plan, and say it will be 18 months. You lose your mind and say you want it done NOW (you are the President after all!). The CJCS brings in his Intel guys, who give you an hour long brief on the complexities and fragilities of the Afghan society, and how just leaving out of the blue will destroy all the progress made thus far, result in thousands of Afghan deaths due to the resulting civil war, create a resurgence of the Taliban, etc.. Most presidents at this point realize that these are ACTUAL lives that hang on their personal decision (think the picture of Kennedy in the Oval Office during the Cuban Missile Crisis). No longer an armchair exercise, they realize that there has to be a logical framework for the withdrawal. But like Iraq, it happens, because you are the boss. Just on a timeline tempered with reality and experience. Common Sense Ending...

    But for arguments sake, let's say you are fanatical about this (you are the President after all!). You give direct that every available mode of logistics will be used immediately to remove US troops from Afghanistan. OK fine they say, and leave. The CJCS hands in his resignation, as his advice is no longer useful to you. Political mayhem ensues, stuff gets leaked to Congress/the Press, and you spend so much of your time dealing with that you can't keep track of the withdrawal.
    You threaten to fire all not obeying your orders, those below you come with briefings showing how they are making progress as best they can, you don't have a clue how logistics works, so you don't know if they are lying or not. So you fire a couple just for good measure... briefings get more and more 'controlled'. Troops end up taking about 24 months to withdraw because of all the mess you made.
    So let's say you veto the spending bill. Great idea! Resources are what drives DC. So now there is no funding for the war effort. Pentagon comes to a grinding halt. Problem is that there are still troops in the field (remember land-locked Afghanistan?), who are now dying because of lack of ammunition that you refused to buy them. Pictures of dead GI's come back home. Oh wait, now suddenly your veto gets overridden by Congress.
    But you aren't done yet, you use yet more executive power to stop spending any DoD funds. More GI's die. Congress has now had enough, so has the American people, and you are the first to be Impeached/Convicted. And the Brits aren't fond of you either (remember it's a Coalition over there)

    (The next 2 are easier)

    2- End of Department "X". Which one? Defense? Education? State? Health and Human Services? Yep, you can slay an entire department as President. Problem is that in most areas of government, there is SOME good being done. So it's pretty unlikely you can just kill the whole thing without crippling a vital service people need. OK, no problem... we'll just carve out the fat, right? Trouble is that it's very hard to estimate how many people any department really needs if you aren't in that department (just how many people does it take to keep track of Social Security Numbers, I don't have a clue) And almost no one is coming to come brief you that they need fewer people (a

  • Re:Big company (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @01:57PM (#33884930) Homepage

    But the government isn't one homogeneous organization. It's hundreds or thousands of agencies, field offices, departments, and units. All of them have purchasing authority. Any of them can have its own network. Some of them are so secret that even their inventory is classified. Some of them may be so secret that their very existence is classified. Many of these systems are so old and legacy that they were purchased before such concepts as "IT" department even exited.

    This isn't a building, or even a logical LAN where someone gets an alert when someone else plugs into the port in 32B. It's a 3 *million* person operation with "networks" that range from 4 people in an FBI field office with a file server 4 workstations and an Internet connection, to the Army's network of 100's of thousands of computers, to a black ops network that no one outside the immediate chain of command is supposed to know exists.

  • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @05:14PM (#33887776)

    So if none of those employees show up for work, someone goes to jail?

    Assuming they're still paid, yes. It's called fraud.

    If everyone just up and quit en masse, the president is required by law to replace them.

    Besides, a reasonable number of these departments are created by Presidential fiat, without Congressional oversight at all.

    Nope. The only significant post created by executive order is the National Security Advisor and their subordinates. All the "Departments of ____" were created by statute.

    I have no doubt that laws allowing these positions to exist have been passed, but I see little in them requiring that they exist.

    Yes, clearly recent events like the salmonella outbreak in eggs demonstrate how we don't need an HHS. And your posts don't indicate the desperate need for a much better Department of Education.

    However, the conviction would need to be within the bounds of the law

    The bounds of the law are literally "any reason". Period. The Supreme Court's interpretation of the language in the Constitution means you can remove the president from office for wearing a blue tie on Thursday.

    You have to remember that the founders expected us to remove a president from office every 10-20 years. So they wrote the Constitution to make impeachment and conviction a normal process. After a few generations of no impeachments, many have mistakenly gone to the conclusion that impeachment is reserved only for serious crimes.

    and I highly doubt that anything I've advocated would meet the definition of a 'crime' nor a 'misdemeanor'.

    Well, so far you've advocated obstruction of justice, fraud, misappropriation of federal funds, and contempt of Congress. And those are the easy ones to rattle off the top of my head. There's probably several more felonies that are a bit tangential but still relevant. And that doesn't even include your unconstitutional line-item veto.

    And again, again, I'm proposing that this happen with the support of the electorate

    Well, now I've got to Godwin this whole debate and point out Hitler's electorate supported his power grab too.

    You don't hand out presidential powers based on presidents you like. Nor on responsible presidents you dislike. You hand out power based on "What if Hitler or Stalin got elected?". Because eventually they will be.

  • by petermgreen ( 876956 ) <> on Wednesday October 13, 2010 @07:51PM (#33889038) Homepage

    People don't generally insist on waxing their own floors or doing their own wiring, after all.
    Because by and large the central cleaning do a good job and keep out of everyones way.

    Often there are poor accounting systems that layer unreasonable costs on putting something in a data center, which obviously is an accounting problem.
    Even if false costs and unnessacery beuracracy were eliminated there are a lot of costs to moving a server from a lab to a datacenter, a few that spring to mind.

    1: Backed up datacenter power costs more than regular grid power and datacenter space also costs more than space under someones desk that wouldn't be used for anything else if the server was moved.
    2: Lack of physical access means that unless you are very confident in your abilities and/or have very easy physical access you need to spend extra to get some form of remote admin. You also need reliable hardware.
    3: You probablly need the machine rackmountable
    2+3: The above points pretty much imply use of a new machine rather than the repurposed desktop that serves fine in the corner of the lab.

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