Navy looks to private industry for help with data center consolidation

New technologies, management techniques offer increased efficiency, flexibility

Like the rest of the Defense Department, the Navy has been very concerned with streamlining its information technology infrastructure for both cost and efficiency reasons. A major part of this effort is data center consolidation—shutting down excess and underused data centers and getting more bang for the buck out of the remaining facilities. How the sea service is approaching this process and what lessons and help it can draw from private industry was discussed by a panel of experts at the Navy League’s Sea, Air, Space exposition on April 18.

Industry must be more involved in helping the Navy manage its data center consolidation, said Janice Haith, the service’s director of assessments and compliance.

Consolidation is necessary because the Navy “has lots of rice bowls”—lots of offices and departments that want to hang onto their data—she added, noting that this is a cultural issue that the service needs to overcome. But the Navy also wants to become more efficient in how it manages its IT assets and looks to commercial firms such as Google as examples to emulate, she said.

Security also remains a concern. From a technology perspective, the Navy has slightly different data environments due to varying classification levels, said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research and director of Test and Evaluation Technology Requirements. One technology that could really help the service’s data consolidation efforts is multicore processing. If processing power can be increased, the Navy will be able to do more with fewer data centers, he said.

But the service does not necessarily want raw power alone, Klunder added. Data throughput does not always have to be at 100 percent because sometimes there are tactical reasons to move data down smaller pipes, he said. However the use of smaller pipes requirement creates a need for analytics and other technology to help manage the data, he said.

There are 150 data centers currently in the Navy. It is a value proposition to get data to individual warfighters without the need to support underused centers, Haith said. Another consideration is the Navy’s at-sea data capability. The service just awarded the CANES contract and one of the service’s requirements is for no latency in moving data between shore-based data centers and ships, she said.

What the Navy needs as part of its data center consolidation efforts is more bandwidth and processing power, Klunder said. But these capabilities need to be coupled with data security and assurance systems, he added.

There are many commercial technologies that can be applied to the Navy’s needs, Klunder said. He noted that he recently met with industry representatives to discuss new technologies that the Navy could use. This is a “win-win” situation where industry expertise helps meet Navy needs, he said.

Besides looking at technology, like all federal agencies the Navy must also follow regulations. This can be a challenge because regulations are constantly evolving, said Michele Weslander Quaid, Google’s chief technology officer for federal markets and innovation evangelist. Observing that regulation should cover outcomes, not technology, she said that this approach also helps to avoid vendor lock-in and outdated security models.

There is also CNA responsibility, Quaid said. To help out, industry has to move data to the cloud to provide anywhere, anytime accessibility. There is also a need to move security to the data itself, not the device. The same technology used to protect intellectual property can defend email and networks, she said.

Many agencies do not have a clear understanding of their baselines and data, said Johnny Barnes, chief technology officer with IBM Global Business Services Public Sector division. IBM needed to get a clear understanding of its technology before setting up its own virtualization and data consolidation efforts, he said.

There is a lot of technology available now that allows organizations to better understand their networks before they begin consolidation efforts, Barnes said. One challenge of consolidation and driving savings from efficiencies is being able to track costs to ensure that the savings will be there, he said.

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