Sequestration slows the pace of data center consolidation

Armed services remain committed to initiatives that will save money and improve security

Efforts by the Army and Navy to meet the Defense Department’s mandate to consolidate data centers have been slowed by the automatic budget cuts that took effect earlier this year – an irony considering that the process is one of the Pentagon’s top priorities for saving money in a tight budget environment.

“We can deliver savings. We know we can. But it’s not going to be overnight,” said Janice Haith, director of assessments and compliance for the Navy’s chief information officer.

Army officials said sequestration has reduced the number of installation processing nodes (IPNs) to be created this fiscal year, though they hope to make up the difference later. The IPNs are the centralized data centers for each installation.

Since 2011, the armed services have been working to consolidate their information technology infrastructures into a unified, cloud-based enterprise network. The effort is aimed both at saving money and making data more secure from cyberattack.

The Army has closed 99 data centers over the past fiscal year, the most of all the armed services, according to Col. James Parks III, chief of the data center consolidation initiative in the Army’s CIO/G6 department. The service also has tasked commands to reduce by 50 percent the 13,000 applications currently in use , since the initial goal of a 30-percent reduction was met ahead of expectations.

“Overall, you’ll see the best efficiencies from this,” Parks said, noting that data center consolidation is expected to save the Army about $27 million a year.

“The commands are really leaning forward into making this happen. They’re really behind it.”

Haith said the Navy’s work toward the goal is going so well that officials intend to end up with fewer than the 25 data centers initially planned, saving some $1.3 billion over the five-year budget period. One of those will be the Marine Corps’ data center in Kansas City, Mo., since that service is already the leanest in terms of consolidation, she said.

But that progress has not been without unexpected challenges. As the process began, Navy officials learned the service had more data centers – more than 120 – and servers than previously thought. The quality of applications and systems was also a challenge, she said.

“So far our biggest challenges have been the discovery of what we didn’t know,” Haith said.

It also has been difficult to get people to understand how changing technology has driven the process, she said.

Outdated infrastructure at Army installations in the continental United States posed a challenge for the consolidation process that officials are working to fix, Parks said. The issue was the result of investment in networks focused on deployed forces during more than a decade of overseas operations, he noted.

Brig. Gen. John Morrison, commander of the Army’s 7th Signal Command at Fort Gordon, Ga., which is responsible for network communications throughout the Western Hemisphere, said at a Defense Systems summit in September that outmoded and nonstandard equipment is a concern because the focal point of the service’s efforts to standardize and streamline connectivity involves using stateside bases as “docking stations” for globally deployed forces.

The Navy was in better shape on that front because of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), which provides secure IT services for more than 700,000 users at 2,500 Navy and Marine Corps bases worldwide. NMCI is the largest enterprise network in the Defense Department and the largest corporate intranet in the world after the Internet itself.

NMCI had already replaced a number of legacy networks, simplifying the consolidation process, Haith said. And the Navy is expected in the coming months to award a contract for NMCI’s replacement, the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN).

“We do not have the variances that we’ve had before,” she said.

The services’ data center consolidation efforts go hand-in-hand with the Pentagon’s plan to move data services to the cloud, with the Defense Information Systems Agency acting as enterprise services broker. Cloud computing is seen as more efficient and cost-effective than the traditional manner of storing data on desktops. It’s also more secure – an important consideration in an era of growing cyber threats.

“We want to be into the full cloud to the maximum extent that we can,” Haith said.

For the Army, cloud computing enables the hosting of applications and the storing of data where they can easily be accessed by users from any location, enhancing the ability to project force, Parks said. “That is key to us: the ability to have data for users wherever they may be.”


Additional Online Resources

Army Data Center Consolidation Plan Fact Sheet

http://ciog6.army.mil/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=_knFGXDuaOI%3D&tabid=122 

DOD Information Enterprises Strategic Plan

http://dodcio.defense.gov/Portals/0/Documents/DodIESP-r16.pdf

Navy Department Cyberspace Campaign Plan for 2011-2013

http://www.doncio.navy.mil/ContentView.aspx?ID=2220

About the Author

Charles Hoskinson is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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