Oregon State Data Center, learns from its first data center, a bit of humor

Saw this Oregon article about Oregon’s state data center.  I started reading expecting to hear interesting data center ideas, but I started to laugh as it was humorous to see this was Oregon state's first true data center and they thought they could run a data center with unqualified staff and they could do server consolidation across organizational boundaries.

Here is the background.

The Lesson from Oregon's Data Center: Don't Promise Too Much


State governments across the country are making big changes in their IT departments. They're centralizing their own state data systems in a push to save money. The state of Washington is building a $300 million data center in Olympia. Oregon undertook a similar project a few years ago, but it's been criticized for failing to produce the promised financial savings. Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman found lessons from Oregon.

The State Data Center is a generic looking office building on the edge of Salem. Inside are the digital nerve centers of 10 state agencies, including Human Services, Corrections and Transportation. This mammoth information repository is so sensitive, you can't get very far before you get to something that operations manager Brian Nealy calls the "man trap." It's kind of like an air lock, you have to clear one set of doors before you can get through the next set.

And the story continues.

They have a physical security system.

Bryan Nealy: "You'll notice there are card readers on every door in the secure part of the data center. That way we can give people access only to the areas they need to go into. It's very granular as far as where people can get. This is the command center. This is manned 24–7, 365."

Yet, their goal was to consolidate across agencies which would cause huge workflow and security problems.

Koreski says the original business case for this $63 million facility made assumptions that turned out to be impractical. For example, planners figured they could combine servers from different agencies just by putting them under the same roof. But that's not what happened. Koreski says you can't do the two things at once: physically move the servers and combine their functions.

Due to this assumption they promised a cost savings.

Three years after it opened, data managers are still trying to reduce the number of physical machines at the Oregon Data Center. That ongoing work is one of the reasons Data Center Director John Koreski concedes the facility isn't on track to meet the original goal of saving the state money within the first five years.

John Koreski: "It's not even close."

So, data center operations is dancing to show they didn’t save money, but they did reduce future costs.

And that change has meant the economies of scale haven't materialized as fast as once thought. Koreski took the reigns of the Data Center in January. His predecessor left after a scathing audit from the Oregon Secretary of State's office last year. It said, quote, "It is unlikely that the anticipated savings will occur." But Director Koreski insists the Data Center is saving the state money.

John Koreski: "What our consolidation efforts resulted in was a cost avoidance, as opposed to a true cost savings where we actually wrote a check back to the Legislature."

Luckily Intel and Moore’s law saved their ass even though they are making it seem like the data center addresses budget issues.

In other words, Koreski says the Data Center is growing its capacity at a faster rate than it's growing its budget. That explanation computes for at least one analyst. Bob Cummings works in the Legislative Fiscal Office. It's his job to make sure the numbers add up for major state technology projects. He jumped into the Data Center fray as soon as he was hired last summer, and what Cummings found shocked him.

The Legislative Fiscal office faults the rationale for the data center as bullshit.

Bob Cummings: "It was the right thing to do. However, the rationale for doing it, and the baseline cost estimates and stuff for doing it, were all b–––––––. They were all wrong. They were all low."

Then it gets funnier.

Cummings says the state of Oregon failed to take into account one key detail: Washington already had a data center and is building a bigger one. In Oregon, no one with the state had ever run a Data Center before.

We have never done this before, but our first try was a great job.

Bob Cummings: "I mean, we had to build everything from scratch. And by the way, we did a great job of building a data center but didn't have anybody to run it, didn't have any procedures, no methods. We outsourced to a non–existent organization."

These guys are amateurs.

Oregon Department of Administrative Services Director Scott Harra echoed this in his response to the Secretary of State's audit. Harra wrote that the consolidation effort was hampered because it required skills and experience that did not previously exist in Oregon's state government. After last year's audit, Democratic State Representative Chuck Riley led a hearing that looked into the Data Center. He says he's convinced Data Center managers are saving the state money, but:

Rep. Chuck Riley: "The question is, did they meet their goals. And the answer is basically no, they didn't meet their goals. They over promised."

And that's the basic message Riley and others have for developers of Washington's data center: Keep expectations realistic. I'm Chris Lehman in Salem.

So, for all of you looking at Oregon for a state to put a data center. You can skip a trip to the Oregon state data center as I doubt you will hear this story.  Although it would be entertaining to hear an Oregon politician explain data center operations.