Data Center Optimization:

Agencies Report Progress, but Oversight and Cybersecurity Risks Need to Be Addressed

GAO-20-279: Published: Mar 5, 2020. Publicly Released: Mar 5, 2020.

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The Office of Management and Budget has been working with federal agencies to reduce the number of outdated or duplicative federal data centers. In fiscal year 2019, agencies closed 102 centers, and planned to close 184 more.

OMB also narrowed the definition of a data center, recategorizing about 2,000 facilities and excluding them from federal reporting requirements. But many of these facilities—access points into federal IT systems—will continue operating. Each one is a potential target for cyberattacks.

We recommended that OMB require agencies to continue to report on these facilities to ensure effective cybersecurity oversight.

Data Centers Closed, Planned for Closure, and Remaining for Fiscal Year 2019, as of August 2019

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Additional Materials:

Contact:

Carol C. Harris
(202) 512-4456
harriscc@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The 24 agencies participating in the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) reported progress toward achieving OMB's fiscal year 2019 goals for closing unneeded data centers. As of August 2019, 23 of the 24 reported that they had met, or planned to meet, their fiscal year closure goals, and would close 286 facilities in doing so (see figure). Agencies also reported plans to close at least 37 of the remaining data centers.

Agency-reported Data Centers Closed, Planned for Closure, and Remaining, as of August 31, 2019

Agency-reported Data Centers Closed, Planned for Closure, and Remaining, as of August 31, 2019

OMB issued revised guidance in June 2019 that narrowed the scope of the type of facilities that would be defined as a data center. This revision eliminated the reporting of over 2,000 facilities government-wide. OMB had previously cited cybersecurity risks for these types of facilities. Without a requirement to report on these, important visibility is diminished, including oversight of security risks.

The 24 DCOI agencies have reported a total of $4.7 billion in cost savings from fiscal years 2012 through 2019. Of the 24 agencies, 23 reported in August 2019 they had met, or planned to meet, OMB's fiscal year 2019 savings goal of $241.5 million. One agency did not complete a plan, but planned to do so in the future. Agencies also reported plans to save about $264 million in fiscal year 2020.

The 24 agencies reported progress against OMB's three revised data center optimization metrics for virtualization, advanced energy monitoring, and server utilization. For a new fourth metric (availability), the data were not sufficiently reliable to report on because of unexpected variances in the information reported by the agencies. As of August 2019, eight agencies reported that they met all three targets for the metrics GAO reviewed, five met two targets, and six met one target. In addition, one agency had not established any targets, and four agencies reported that they no longer owned any data centers.

While the three revised metrics' definitions included the key characteristics of being clearly defined and objective, none included statistical universe parameters that enable determinations of progress. Specifically, these metrics call for counts of the actual numbers of (1) virtualized servers, (2) data centers with advanced energy metering, and (3) underutilized servers; but the metrics did not include a count of the universe of all servers and all data centers. Accordingly, percentages cannot be calculated to determine progress–for example, the number of virtualized servers may increase, but if the universe of servers increases at a higher rate, then progress would actually be negative.

Why GAO Did This Study

In December 2014, Congress enacted federal IT acquisition reform legislation that included provisions related to ongoing federal data center consolidation efforts. OMB's Federal Chief Information Officer launched DCOI to build on prior data center consolidation efforts; improve federal data centers' performance; and establish goals for inventory closures, cost savings and avoidances, and optimization performance.

The 2014 legislation included a provision for GAO to annually review agencies' data center inventories and strategies. This report addresses (1) agencies' progress and plans for data center closures and savings; and (2) agencies' progress against OMB's June 2019 revised data center optimization metrics. To do so, GAO assessed the 24 DCOI agencies' data center inventories as of August 2019, reviewed their reported cost savings documentation, evaluated their data center optimization strategic plans, and assessed their progress against OMB's established optimization targets. GAO also compared OMB's revised metrics to key characteristics of an effective performance measure.

What GAO Recommends

To improve DCOI reporting and performance, GAO is making four recommendations to OMB, and four to three selected agencies. The three agencies agreed with the recommendations while OMB did not state whether it agreed or disagreed. GAO continues to maintain that the four recommendations to OMB are warranted.

For more information, contact Carol C. Harris at (202) 512-4456 or harriscc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should (1) require that agencies explicitly document annual data center closure goals in their DCOI strategic plans and (2) track those goals on the IT Dashboard. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should require agencies to report in their quarterly inventory submissions those facilities previously reported as data centers, even if those facilities are not subject to the closure and optimization requirements of DCOI. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should document OMB's decisions on whether to approve individual data centers when designated by agencies as either a mission critical facility or as a facility not subject to DCOI. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should take action to address the key performance measurement characteristics missing from the DCOI optimization metrics, as identified in this report. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Agriculture should take action to achieve its data center-related cost savings target established under DCOI by OMB. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should take action to achieve its data center-related cost savings target established under DCOI by OMB. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Office of the Secretary

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce should take action to meet its data center optimization metric targets established under DCOI by OMB. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: Office of the Secretary

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration should take action to achieve its data center-related cost savings target established under DCOI by OMB. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

 

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