While Congress debates the debt ceiling and the federal budget, the White House is accelerating its plans to close data centres as a means to trim billions of dollars from its IT budget.

By 2012, the US plans to close 373 data centres, representing about 800,000 square feet of space, or about the size of 14 football fields, an official pointed out on Wednesday.

The White House today released a map showing the locations of the 373 data centres earmarked for closing over the next two years. The Google Maps-based map is sprinkled with targeted data centres from coast-to-coast, with the highest concentration in the north-east.

The targeted data centres range in size from a 195,000-square foot Department of Homeland Security facility in Alabama to four Department of Agriculture data centres, each of less than 1,000 square feet in size.

If the White House reaches its 2012 goal , it will put the government almost half way to its plan to shut down 800 of its 2,000 data centres by 2015. The government expects to save about $3 billion annually.

The US had planned to close 137 data centers by the end of 2011, but updated that to 195 by year's end.

Outgoing federal CIO Vivek Kundra , in a conference call today to discuss the closings, said average utilisation for these data centres, in terms of computing power, is less than 27 percent and storage utilization is less than 40 percent.

"This is unacceptable in any time, especially when we are talking about a tough budgetary environment," Kundra said.

He said that on 7 October each federal agency will be required to put online details of which data centres they intend to close and the square footage of all the facilities targeted for closing. The only exception is data centres the government wishes to maintain the secrecy of.

US government agencies have rapidly expanded data centres since 1998, when there were only 432.

When asked in the call with reporters how the closings will affect employees, Kundra said that in many cases the data centres are managed by contractors, indicating it would be up to those firms to determine what happens to employees. For federal employees, he said the goal is to retool them for other jobs.

Kundra is leaving his post next month for a fellowship at Harvard and there's been discussion in federal IT circles about whether his initiatives, particularly his strong emphasis on cloud adoption, will continue.

The impact of Kundra's exit came up as a topic on a panel Wednesday at the Fose information technology conference here.

"It would be difficult to imagine that the IT reform agenda is going to be forgotten once Vivek leaves and a new (federal CIO) person comes in," David McClure, associate administrator in the IT department of US General Services Administration.

"This administration has really tied itself to achieving these things. I wouldn't expect major shifts" in administration IT policy, McClure said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centres and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

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