Army aims for maximum return from cloud investment
Virtualized environment will help drive savings
Gary Winkler, a member of the Senior Executive Service since 2003, has been program executive officer for Army Enterprise Information Systems at Ft. Belvoir, Va., since October 2007. He is responsible for program management of Defense Department and Army business and combat service support systems, and also Army communication and computer infrastructure. PEO EIS is also the DOD’s lead organization for biometrics.
The Army moves SES managers about every three to four years. As of October 2010, Winkler was the PEO-EIS leader for four years, so he is expecting a move. Nothing is final at this time.
He discussed with Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg the PEO’s first Senior Executive Service-level deputy, cloud computing and Army enterprise resource planning.
DS: Your organization's recent hiring of a civilian deputy, Terry Watson, is a milestone for the PEO, isn’t it? What will she be responsible for?
Winkler: Right, our civilian deputy is a new position. It’s an SES position that we did not have before. This is a one-star equivalent position, and I think we are the last of 13 PEOs in the Army to get a flag-level deputy, so it’s long overdue. As a senior executive, she basically has to fill in whenever I’m not around, so she needs to know it all.
Army's new deputy PEO talks shop
Let me give you a little bit background on Terry, and then I’ll tell you what areas I’ve given her more emphasis. Terry was promoted internally, and already had program oversight of all of our programs at the GS-15 level. She also handled all of our money, $4 billion a year, and handled our manpower, structure and planning, as well as managing our interaction with Congress. Now, where I’ve given her areas of emphasis is in the technical area…looking over our portfolio or part of our portfolio that supports the Army CIO/G-6. I also wanted her to be more involved in our fielding activities, so I put her over our Field Synchronization Directorate.
DES: What role is PEO-EIS playing in developing cloud computing technologies for the Army?
Winkler: With Army Knowledge Online, we’ve been doing cloud computing for a while, where no matter where you went in the world, you had access to your data, your network services and single-sign-on applications behind AKO. But I think the real benefit of cloud computing beyond AKO is moving applications into a virtualized environment where you’re leveraging IT assets like servers to the maximum capacity. AKO is not so much of an issue because every AKO server is pretty much maxed out, but you can imagine that with all the applications in the Army, a lot of servers are only being partially used [maybe only] 50 percent or less, certainly not in the 80 percent to 90 percent range.
So when you get into cloud computing, you’ve leveraged a virtualized environment for servers and storage where hardware resources are optimized against the applications being hosted, so it’s much more cost-effective. The current Army strategy is to leverage Defense Information Systems Agency data centers to do that.
DS: And is the other part of the strategy using commercial cloud computing?
Winkler: If it doesn’t make sense for DISA to host an application for one reason or another, whether it’s cost or efficiency or location or service, then [the plan is to] leverage the commercial cloud computing world, where private companies have data centers and virtualized environments that would be better postured to serve some of our user base. And so we’re in source selection now for what we call the Army Private Cloud.
DS: Which systems will you procure?
Winkler: There are two components: a fixed data center component that’s targeted to be awarded late April or early May and a mobile data center component, which is a data center in a box. It’s an 18-wheeler type box that’s self-contained with servers and things like HVAC. Companies can bid on the first component or the second component or both.
DS: When would the military take advantage of, say this privately provided cloud, as opposed to using a DISA cloud?
Winkler: Certainly on the container side, they can take advantage of it when they have to deploy somewhere. They can drop a data center in a box wherever they’re at, hook it up to comms and then move it when they’re done. DISA doesn’t have that capability yet, and if they were looking at that capability I would think they would look at a commercial capability like what we’re providing in this procurement. I don’t think the government wants to get in the business of building these data centers in a box.
DS: PEO-EIS is about to introduce an AKO-related capability that connects deployed soldiers and counselors to discuss personal matters. What is that called?
Winkler: It’s called Tele-Behavioral Health. AKO has partnered with the Army Medical Command to expand the medical reach of counselors to help address the suicide rates in the Army. If some soldiers are anxious or feeling a little bit overwhelmed or depressed, they can go online through a secure AKO chat capability to a counselor and have a private counseling session, without having to go through their chain of command, and avoid any stigma that they might be worried about. It hasn’t quite gone live yet because the medical community is working a staffing plan for their counselors, but we expect it certainly by the time this issue goes to print and gets published.
DS: Your organization is responsible for a variety of enterprise resource planning programs worth hundreds of millions of dollars. You’ve talked about wanting to manage those programs more efficiently. What are you doing in that respect?
Winkler: Yes, ERPs make up such a huge spend in the Army — between $500 million and $600 million a year. We’re trying to be proactive, so last August, Headquarters DA started a 120-day Army ERP study to see how we could better acquire these ERP programs. We’ve made some fine-tuning adjustments and have made some organizational changes. For instance, our program manager for [the Army ERP System’s Integration Program], Col. Pat Flanders, has got two jobs. One is the product side of AESIP, which is hub services, master data management and business intelligence supporting all the ERPs. But then the other management duty he has is to bring our ERPs together and help align functions appropriately between each ERP.
And he is working with our other ERP project managers, the Army G4, Army Material Command, ASA (FM&C) [Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management & Comptroller], tactical logistics proponents, as well as PEO Aviation, to come up with some better ways to allocate functionality to either leverage the investment in one ERP or the other, or in some cases eliminate the need for the start of a new program to do some other function.
DS: What role does PEO Aviation play in this initiative?
Winkler: They’ve got the platforms that feed logistics information to the supply systems.
Basically there’s an aviation notebook that ties in to the aviation platforms to do condition based maintenance. And then that data has to be fed to GCSS Army, the tactical logistics system, to determine when to re-order a part, for example. So the aviation community wants to — and we’re going to let them — use that aviation notebook to capture that data, and then tie it into GCSS-Army instead of the GCSS-Army ERP taking on that mission itself. So it’s basically streamlining end-to-end business processes within the Army and then allocating functionality within a business process to the appropriate organization and system. So that’s a lot of the refinement work we’ve been looking at in our ERPs.