Navy embraces IT consolidation as new way of doing business

The Navy continues to make strides in shuttering data centers, collapsing network infrastructure and moving to a more open IT approach, and those plans are all coming together in a departmentwide, multiprong approach to reducing spending and its IT footprint.

A panel of Navy officials, speaking May 3 at AFCEA Naval IT Day in Vienna, Va., said that while headway has been made in both large- and small-scale programs, there’s still a ways to go. To help get there, Navy is tackling some of its biggest challenges in cultural barriers, IT consolidation and progress in major programs such as the recently awarded Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) and the long-awaited Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN).

“I can’t think of a more complicated area than IT. The number of stakeholders out there is enormous, and everyone’s an expert. After all, everyone has a computer, everyone has an iPhone, so they know better about what we can do for them than what we can do,” said John Zangardi, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, information operations and space.

The first step is to address such a range of wide-scale issues is to fully grasp both the circumstances and the needs, and find a balance.

“We have to be able to identify risk, understand appetite and try to get it as right as we can,” and be able to do it in a constrained environment, Zangardi said.

But understanding the full scope of overhauling Navy IT involves a litany of requirements, costs, networks, operating systems, applications and hundreds of baselines to maintain, according to Capt. D.J. LeGoff, program manager for tactical networks and CANES.

“We can’t do business this way; we can’t afford it, and it doesn’t work. We have to move into a much more enterprise way of doing things,” he said. To that end, the Navy is implementing CANES, but he admits it isn’t a silver bullet.

“There’s no new science involved in CANES; it’s really a new business process. How do we take the best and brightest of industry best practices and turn that into an infrastructure that we can support at sea?” he said.

Rather than maintaining separate networks and refreshing at different times, CANES will help the Navy better meet all requirements at a faster pace – and embrace new standards and technologies.

“Everything in the architecture is open. The government owns all data rights. And we have a built-in tech refresh and obsolescence budget with plans for re-competes to produce new technologies,” LeGoff said. “Otherwise, once we field CANES, we just get right back to where we are today with a bunch of legacy infrastructure that we don’t know what to do with.”

Like the rest of the Defense Department, the Navy also is aggressively pursuing data center consolidation, although those efforts aren’t necessarily new within the service. But the efforts are being integrated with broader IT modernization efforts, according to Bob Brown, deputy director of the Navy data center consolidation task force.

“IT grew up within the Navy; the Navy did not grow around IT,” Brown said, adding that data center consolidation had been going on in the Navy throughout the deployment of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, set to be replaced by NGEN.

Brown said consolidation activities are aimed at savings and efficiency, and hinge on reducing infrastructure, achieving operational efficiencies by putting applications and systems in a universal environment, and virtualizing and rationalizing systems and applications.

Even as the progress continues, the Navy is running into challenges – sometimes in unexpected places.

“There’s a cultural clash between being enterprise and being self-reliant and self-sufficient,” as the Navy has historically operated, said Victor Gavin, Navy deputy program executive officer for enterprise information systems. “The technology is available to do all these things, but the cultural part is much harder.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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