The UK Government should have a central registry of all its data centers in order to drive greater efficiency, a new report has recommended.

A recently published independent Government report looking into the efficiency of government spending from Lord Maude of Horsham said cross-cutting functions such as IT and digital, property, finance, and HR are often ‘weakened by being too scattered, leading to great inefficiency and waste.’

“The pandemic has dealt punishing blows to the public finances, both in the UK and elsewhere. It is even more important today that the government is organized to ensure that every pound is spent effectively and efficiently,” said Lord Maude.

The report calls for a new “central acceleration entity” to be created under the Government Chief Digital Officer (GCDO) to improve the efficiency of the Government’s data center portfolio and assess legacy technology.

The entity would have “strong powers of mandation” to assess the current state of the legacy backlog then devise and direct a government strategy for the replacement of obsolete legacy technology.

“It should create a central register of all data centers used by government, and use this to drive improvements in performance, security, and efficiency. Its overall task would be to partition and contain the brownfield legacy, while a renewed and revitalized GDS oversees and directs the greenfield replacement,” says the report.

“Data center capacity across Government is massively underused,” Lord Maude previously said during a debate in December. “A huge amount of overcapacity was left in place by the outgoing Government, who had no interest in these subjects at all. We are getting to grips with it, however. We need to do more, and we will do so; there is much more money we can save.”

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As well as its own portfolio of data center centers, the UK Government has a number of contracts with Crown Hosting Data Centres – a joint venture between Ark and the Cabinet Office to provide colocation services to Government bodies – including for Genomics England, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and HM Land Registry.

However, many UK Government departments are signing large cloud contracts as part of digital transformation and cost-cutting efforts. In recent months the NHS, Ministry of Justice, HMRC, and Home Office have all signed multi-million-pound contracts with AWS for cloud hosting services.

A second report published at the same time as Lord Maude's, Organising for digital delivery, warns that a huge amount of the Government’s IT budget goes toward merely maintaining technical debt. It said almost 50 percent of Government IT spending – ~£2.3 billion ($3.19bn) out of a total central Government spend of £4.7bn ($6.5bn) in 2019 – is dedicated just to “keeping the lights on” activity on outdated legacy systems.

“By way of example, the Home Office (the Department with the largest single technology spend), whilst having a clear understanding of the risks and after 3-4 years of effort, has not been able to retire any of their twelve large operational legacy systems,” said the report.

It called for the creation of “clear investment swim lanes” to address legacy debt: “We recommend instead that the GCDO should take a more active role in challenging technology spend during the spending review process and in addition lead an annual review of technology spend where appropriate re-allocating funds to different swim lanes and between different Government Departments within the overall envelope of the spending review.”

In the US, the Government Accountability Office claims to have saved billions of dollars through its own Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI). It said the 26 agencies taking part in the DCOI 'massively reduced' their data center footprint.

However, changing definitions of what the government views as a data center mean that thousands of server rooms are not included in the tally. In 2010, only facilities with 500 square feet (46 sq m) of IT space counted as ‘data centers,' which came to 2,094 facilities. Later widening of the definition brought the figure up to 12,062 data centers, before the Office of Management and Budget again narrowed the definition to exclude some 4,500 'data centers' from the agencies' inventories in 2019.

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