DISA offers details on the enterprise and data-center consolidation

Developing a core DOD infrastructure of networks, computing centers and enterprise services remains a top priority for DISA

Developing a core Defense Department (DOD) infrastructure of networks, computing centers, and enterprise services remains a top priority for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). As the DOD’s data-center consolidation efforts gain momentum, DISA’s Defense Enterprise Computing Centers (DECCs) are well positioned to assume a greater role in the provisioning of enterprise services and applications. Nevertheless, the last 12 months have been challenging, including some setbacks in the hosting of Army e-mail by DISA.

The large-scale migration of 1.4 million unclassified Army users to the DISA-managed enterprise e-mail service is a high-priority program that has been delayed by stops and starts. For almost half a year, the Army migration was intermittently at a standstill, halted in order to fix latency, configuration and other technical issues, as well as to respond to legislative directives from Congress.


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In late December 2011, the Army suspended e-mail migrations for more than two-and-a-half months to address congressional requirements in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). In mid-2011, there was a three-month, operational pause of the migration due to widespread performance and reliability problems with the DISA-hosted enterprise e-mail service.

“The direction in the NDAA was for the Army to stop their migrations until they did some due diligence from an acquisition perspective,” said Alfred Rivera, director of DISA’s enterprise services directorate. “We were slowly bringing on some DISA users and continued to optimize the enterprise e-mail infrastructure while [the Army] was held in abeyance until they finished their documentation.”

The NDAA required the Secretary of the Army to submit a report to congressional defense committees with specifics on the enterprise e-mail program, including requirements, an analysis of alternatives and expected costs and savings. As leverage, the NDAA directed that the Army could not spend any fiscal 2012 funds on enterprise e-mail migration until 30 days after the required report was delivered to Congress.

Making the Business Case

Congressional authorizers were particularly interested in seeing the business case for the Army’s decision in September 2010 to commit $53.9 million to DISA for the agency’s hosted enterprise e-mail service, rather than pursue commercially available cloud services.

The Army’s February 2012 report to Congress certified that the service's acquisition approach is in the “best technical and financial interests of the Army, and provides for the maximum amount of competition possible.” According to the report, a cost-benefit analysis was conducted in 2009-2010 and published in 2011 that analyzed four alternatives (status quo, commercial vendor managed service, Army Knowledge Online, DISA managed service) and determined that acquiring enterprise e-mail as a service from DISA was the best approach for the Army.

“The commercial and DISA options best met the validated requirement; of these two, the DISA option is the least costly for the Army to implement,” stated the Army’s February report to Congress. “The Army realizes significant cost savings by leveraging existing Army enterprise license agreements, competitively awarded DISA contracts and existing DOD and Army networks.”

The service had originally projected more than $100 million in annual savings from Army enterprise e-mail, starting in fiscal 2013. Nevertheless, the Army Audit Agency (AAA) in a January 2012 report performed its own assessment of the projected cost savings for the DISA-managed enterprise e-mail service and found the Army’s claims to be substantially overstated.

“Initially, the estimate was $100 million a year,” said Alan Lewis, DISA’s program executive officer of enterprise services and vice director, enterprise services directorate. “The Army has revisited that and in the first year they are estimating that they will save approximately $75 million.”

Specifically, the AAA report came up with projected savings of $76.1 million in fiscal 2013, $78.5 million in fiscal 2014, $56.8 million in fiscal 2015, $82.6 million in fiscal 2016 and $85.9 million in fiscal 2017.

“It is less than $100 million [per year], but it’s still significant,” said Rivera.

As of late December 2011, the Army spent $71.7 million on enterprise e-mail – $62.7 million of which went to DISA. An additional $12.7 million is estimated to complete the Army migration, with $42 million in sustainment costs through September 30, 2012.

Formalizing the Program

In January 2012, Army enterprise e-mail was designated by the service as a formal acquisition program – an NDAA requirement – with the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) assuming program management.

“The Army has introduced a program director from PEO EIS now responsible for many areas of the Army e-mail migrations, and that includes monitoring costs, validating requirements, tracking the schedules and also generating reports back to Congress,” said Lewis. “The net result is that it is expected to have a positive impact by streamlining the communication channels and giving a single focal point on the Army side for all requirements and management of the effort.”

From March to December 2011, the Army migrated more than 302,000 users to enterprise e-mail. As of April 2012, that number was at 315,000 total migrated users. Before the fiscal 2012 NDAA was enacted in December, the Army and DISA planned to complete the enterprise e-mail migration by March 2012. However, the new goal is to reach full operational capability by September 30, with 1.4 million unclassified Army users.

“There will be some small clean-up activities, such as local organizations or commands, that may come after that but the vast majority of the Army will be completed by the end of the fiscal year,” said Lewis.

According to Lewis, the Army’s Secret IP Router Network (SIPRNet) migration will begin in late June to support approximately 200,000 users of classified data. He said that the SIPRNet infrastructure will mirror the Unclassified but Sensitive IP Router Network (NIPRNet) e-mail enterprise service.

DISA is currently rolling out the SIPRNet “pods,” self-contained installations of hardware (communications, servers and storage) that are the primary core of the enterprise e-mail service, and mini-pods that provide coverage to the edge. Overall, DISA hosts pod enterprise e-mail capabilities at nine of its DECCs, seven in the continental U.S. and two outside CONUS, while the mini-pods are hosted at non-DECC customer sites. Rivera said that DISA is evaluating whether there is a need to put a DECC in Bahrain, where a Theater Enterprise Computing Center is located.

Currently, each pod allows for approximately 50,000–75,000 business class users and 27,000–30,000 remote users, while mini-pods have the capacity to service approximately 30,000 users and are scalable to suit customer requirements. The DISA-hosted enterprise e-mail service is designed to initially support 1.4 million users but is scalable to accommodate 5 million DOD user personas.

“We have established the infrastructure to support 1.4 million user accounts, including the Army, Army National Guard, DISA and a number of combatant commands and agencies that will also migrate,” said Lewis. “It’s a scalable solution so when we hit the 1.4 million mark we’ll be rolling out additional capability to accommodate any new organizations that express a desire to migrate as well.”

The Joint Staff has committed to DISA-managed enterprise e-mail, as well as some combatant commands. But, for now, the Army is the only military department to formally adopt DISA-managed enterprise e-mail service as a single provider of e-mail.

“We’re in close coordination with the Joint Staff and starting [in April] we’ll be piloting service to start with the headquarters element up in the Pentagon and also down at Suffolk,” said Lewis. “We’ve also had discussions with Northcom and Transcom in terms of coordinating when they want to come onboard to enterprise e-mail. The Air Force is in the exploratory stage, although no commitment as of yet.”

As the Army and other services move to the DOD enterprise e-mail, DISA sees much value in leveraging a single directory and with that a single identity management solution.

“We have the largest global address list in the federal government at 3.7 million entries and that means when you’re an enterprise e-mail user you have access to the address as well as other data for every one of those entries on the list,” said Lewis.

“It’s not Army enterprise e-mail. This is DOD enterprise e-mail,” emphasized Rivera. “The Army just happens to be the first organization being brought into the service.”

Bringing DOD on DECC

Enterprise e-mail isn’t the only application that DISA’s DECCs will be hosting. The Air Force, Army and the Defense Logistics Agency have all adopted a “DISA-first” strategy for data center consolidation under which they will consider DISA for application and data hosting before pursuing any other solutions.

As DOD continues to consolidate its data centers, the services and agencies will increasingly rely on DISA as their shared hosting provider of computing services. Hosting enterprise applications within the DECCs will shift the focus of DOD IT operations from infrastructure management to the service management model outlined in the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy.

In March, DOD CIO Teresa Takai testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities that data center consolidation in combination with the move to enterprise services will allow the department to significantly reduce its more than 770 data centers. By the end of fiscal 2012, Takai said the DOD will have reduced its inventory of data centers by more than 115.

By the end of fiscal 2015, the Army plans to close 75 percent of its data centers, migrating much of the workload to the DISA DECCs. Redundant and legacy applications will be eliminated by developing enterprise applications, and by providing enterprise hosting as a managed service. Sixty-five percent of identified applications will be migrated, 30 percent will be retired and 5 percent will remain local at data centers.

“The Army, beyond just defense enterprise e-mail, is looking at some of their enterprise services, to include some of the ERPs they are developing for their financial and logistics environments, to move to the DECC,” said Rivera.

For its part, the Air Force has a goal of a 47 percent reduction of its data centers, while the Navy seeks to close more than 50 percent of its data centers. However, the most aggressive data center consolidation plan belongs to the DLA, whose goal is a minimum 75 percent reduction in the number of servers and 90 percent reduction in the number of DLA-managed data centers. DLA’s plan is to close nearly all its data centers by the end of 2015.

“DLA continues to tout DISA first,” said Rivera. “In fact, they will not put anything outside of a DISA DECC unless I indicate to them that we can’t support them. Most of their environment is already in the DECCs. And, in the Air Force, we are already supporting most of their large logistics systems. I’d even add [Defense Finance and Accounting Services] into that equation since the majority of their enterprise applications are already hosted at the DECCs.”

DISA officials believe that unit costs will decline and then stabilize over future years as data center consolidation accelerates and new workload continues to migrate to the DECCs. Moreover, they say the portfolio of services their computing centers provide will continue to evolve as customer requirements change and demand increases for new services, such as cloud computing capabilities and enterprise services hosted at the DECCs.

“Our big data centers will continue to be part of that core infrastructure, with the goal being that our DECCs would host the large enterprise applications that are necessary to be cross-functional and cross-service,” said Rivera. “We’re working with the Air Force, Army and Navy for identification of key enterprise applications that need to be moved into the DECCs. For example, at the enterprise service level, applications such as enterprise [Microsoft] SharePoint are being migrated to the DECCs so they can take advantage of our security infrastructure and our personnel and centers of excellence that have expertise.”

Since fiscal 2006, demand for DISA’s server and storage computing services has grown significantly, with the number of customer-driven server operating environments increasing by 146 percent, and total storage gigabytes increasing by 295 percent. Over the same period, the cost to deliver all computing services has increased by only 30 percent.

“We have a model where we acquire capacity like a utility, so the vehicles and strategies that we have with our vendors allow us to buy capacity on demand for processing, storage and communications,” said Rivera. “We can grow as needed as efficiently as possible.”

Towards that end, in 2006, DISA awarded eight-year capacity contracts to APPTIS, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and Vion. The contracts allow DISA to purchase server capacity on an on-demand basis and to pay for it like a utility.

“Having a DISA-first strategy doesn’t mean having a DISA-only strategy. I think what we’ll see is that the military services will each be consolidating their own data centers at the same time as they shift functionality over to the DECCs as it makes sense,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. “In terms of capacity, it will always be a challenge given the growth in storage requirements from imagery data received from UAVs and global operations. What’s important is that the department as a whole optimizes its computing infrastructure and extends its capacity out into commercial data centers.”

Suss sees the services and agencies leveraging commercial data centers as an option when centralizing in DISA is not practical. He believes there will be a more significant role for commercially based data centers to pick up some of the DOD work load.

“There will be a time in the not too distant future when DISA DECCs, DOD data centers, and commercial data centers all will be providing the enterprise with more efficient and cost-effective data-center management and operations,” said Suss. “The grand plan is not for DISA to own the universe but to rationalize computing at the enterprise level and improve efficiency. The DISA DECCs are a big part of that.”

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