Command & Control

C4ISR

OPED: Legacy vs modern command & control

By -Jason Poteat - Solution Architect at Red Hat. 

A battle is brewing in military Global Command and Control Centers (GCCCs) between archaic legacy applications vs. lightweight modern applications that deliver modularity, scalability, and agility. At the heart of the skirmish is the need to integrate and efficiently manage numerous disparate applications.

As the Department of Defense (DoD) seeks to modernize, its agencies are employing custom modern applications that do not play nice with legacy apps from bygone military eras. Aside from being larger and more difficult to manage, legacy applications often lack the scalability that is required in today’s cloud-based environments. The existing applications were independently designed, require their own custom configured runtime, and must be managed and configured individually. This makes routine management activities such as resource allocation, scaling, and monitoring particularly burdensome to developers, administrators, and operations teams.

To win the “Application Gap” war, federal IT administrators must must modernize their GCCS by creating a modular platform that scales on demand. They can do this by developing cloud native applications leveraging a standards-based open source approach.

Contain -- then PaaS -- the Gap

First, agencies should develop better scalability and enhanced management of compute resources while achieving common application runtimes. Getting to this point involves isolating applications being used by GCCCs so pieces can be scaled independently based on characteristics such as memory, CPU, and storage utilization.

To do this, agency developers will want to explore the use of a microservices architecture, Microservices are the antithesis of big, monolithic, legacy applications. They reduce complex apps to small, independent processes that are highly focused and designed for a single purpose, which makes them far easier to manage. They also create modularity, which enables a single solution to be used for small units and larger operations simply by adding more system resources to the common runtime environment.

Those resources can be better managed by developing microservices within Linux containers. Containers keep applications and runtime components together while still isolating the applications themselves. Through this process, agency developers can effectively abstract out compute resources. They can also enable applications to more easily scale by adding or removing compute resources as necessary. They’ll still need to manage those resources, but that process will be much less painstaking, leading to greater agility and far fewer headaches for operations teams responsible for keeping GCCCs moving.

Develop Beyond the Gap

Let’s not forget about agency personnel who find themselves on the front lines of the battle. They’re equally important in the effort to modernize operations and application management.

Core to this effort is the adoption of DevOps, a cultural movement that creates synergy between people, processes, and technology. DevOps has become extremely important to government IT, because it improves synergy across teams. This allows for enhanced collaboration between stakeholders, leading to greater innovation and velocity.

The DoD needs apps to be created and deployed quickly. DevOps enables smaller teams to work more fluidly together to problem-solve and deliver solutions to capability gaps in the current software environment.

Bridge the Gap

As GCCS modernize there will be some applications that are not part of the modernization effort due to cost, schedule, or other factors. Therefore, it’s important when adopting a common runtime such as Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that developers choose one that allows for cloud native applications and supports running and integration with traditional applications.

Common runtimes should allow for employing of traditional integration technologies and applications. These can include enterprise service bus and data virtualization solutions as well as a host of other open source projects that can, collectively or individually, be used to integrate services, systems, and data. Gartner uses the term xPaaS to describe these solutions; middleware services that can be used as PaaS solutions.

In effect, these platforms and projects enable agency developers to construct routes that will let them mediate between different services that can be externally managed, and put service wrappers around legacy or current systems to treat them as a single source. They can connect all of their various assets and integrate, creating a middleware framework that enables applications to effectively work with each other and helps avoid costly development efforts.

Close the Gap

As the government seeks to streamline operations and become more innovative, we’re seeing defense agencies turn favorable eyes toward open source software. It provides government IT personnel with highly flexible and secure solutions that help them accelerate development efforts and attack challenges.

The challenge for GCCCs is the same as throughout the DoD as a whole. Agencies must be able to provide modern warfighters with instant access to the best technology solutions available so they can make better decisions. Don’t let a war between applications of the past get in the way of the GCCS of the future.

Jason Poteat is Solution Architect at Red Hat.

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