A numbers game: Adding up Army data center consolidation

COL James Parks III is the chief of the data center consolidation initiative in the Army’s CIO/G-6 office. His prior assignments include commander of the 41st Signal Battalion, and deputy G3, Afghanistan 335 Theater Signal Command.

He spoke to Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg about the Army’s progress in consolidating data centers and reducing the number of application in use.

DS: Within the area of consolidating data centers, what’s at the top of your to-do-list?

Parks: The number one thing is the identification of the IPNs (Installation Processing Nodes) on each post, camp and station across the Army.

DS: Please describe an IPN.

Parks: The IPN would be that one central data center that each post, camp or station will use across the Army. So now instead of having multiple data centers that do separate functions for different commands, you will have one installation processing node that will host all those applications and services for the installation. So now we will go from having, let’s say, 12 separate data centers on [an] installation to one data center, which really drives at our goal of achieving efficiencies across the Army.

DS: And where are you with that identification process.

Parks: We are in the identification period. We have identified over 90 installations where we will need an IPN across the Army. Of those, we have done what we call an installation discovery…actually go on to an installation and look for those data centers. But because the definition for a data center changes sometimes, we need to go down there and identify things that they may not think is a data center but that actually is. We have done that at nine installations so far, and have identified the best facility on that installation to be that IPN and then work on the consolidation into that IPN.

DS: The goal is to neck down to just a few core data centers, so is this a middle stage where you neck down to the main IPN at each post, camp and station?

Parks: Absolutely. We are also in the process of identifying the core army data center where we will do enterprise-level hosting, so this is the intermediate step to getting us to that process.

DS: You raised an interesting point about the definition of a data center. So how are you defining it?

Parks: The basic definition would be anything that provides data services that is powered and has HVAC back. It could be as simple as print servers under a desk, for instance.

DS: What is the snapshot as we’re talking now about where you are in the data center consolidation process?

Parks: Our goal is to have all those IPNs identified in the next 12 months. Then our next step is to actually stand those up and have 20 IPNs a year in operation. So [we] will establish 20 IPNs in FY13, 20 in FY14 and so forth until we get it complete. The first step is identifying, and the second step is actually standing them up and making them operational.

DS: What is the connection between the IPNs and the actual closing and consolidation of centers?

Parks: We have to have those IPNs in order to create the landing zones for those applications and services that were provided by those other data centers. So we are still driving towards closing data centers. We have closed a total of 59 across the Army. We met our FY12 goal, which was to close 41 across the Army.

But to get further into it, we have got to establish those landing zones so we can move applications and services there, and that’s what the IPN is so we can continue to get at closing more data centers.

DS: What are the key technical challenges associated with data center consolidation?

Parks: Identification of data centers, for one, and then second we are trying to move to set of operational environments that allow us to bring applications in to a standard configuration so that we don’t have many different [pieces of hardware] and OS platforms out there. We are trying to work as best we can to standardize that, to make services quicker, easier and more cost-effective across the Army as a whole.

DS: Data center consolidation is also about reducing in number the thousands of different applications that reside in Army systems. Please bring me up to data on that aspect.

Parks: The numbers are huge and we are talking thousands of applications. What we are trying to do is to identify those applications that can be hosted as enterprise level so we don’t have to have separate instances of an application running at Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Eustis, Va., and Fort Story, Va. We can have one enterprise-hosted application that can be accessed by Fort Bragg, Fort Eustis and at Fort Story. So now we have reduced the number of licenses we have to have, we have reduced the number of platforms we have to maintain to service that application, and as long as those entities can get the data they need and get it when they need it, then that helps everyone.

DS: What role is the cloud playing in that?

Parks: Certainly, the cloud is a large piece of that as we try. We want for the user to bring us an application and not need to care where that application is being hosted. That’s what we are trying to get to. So wherever we decide to host that application, at Fort Bragg, for example, with the user sitting at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., it doesn’t make a difference in the level of service he is getting. The cost will be lower than it has been before and the user can still get the same service out of it.

DS: What are the types the applications that can be hosted at the enterprise level?

Parks: You have a good example with enterprise e-mail. That’s kind of the first step toward a cloud, something like enterprise e-mail that is used by everyone in the Army. Instead of running exchange servers at every separate location now you can use enterprise e-mail, you can get it wherever you go and you don’t have to care about where your data is being hosted from. So enterprise e-mail is the perfect example of it.

DS: Closing data centers and the resultant changes in people’s jobs could result in some pushback from a personnel standpoint. Have you experienced any of that?

Parks: No, we really haven’t had a lot of pushback. We have had concern because the commands most of all want to make sure we don’t break their operational missions; we can’t do that. We still have got to be able to support the soldiers who are out in the field and to support ongoing operations; that’s their first and primary concern.

We talk to the senior mission commander to ensure what we are doing is right, and to understand the things we can’t touch because that might break the mission. Once we ensure we meet the senior mission commander’s needs, then he wants to know how this is going to save him money and what can he do to better help the Army establish those efficiencies.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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