For defense IT, virtual is more agile than physical

Data center consolidation, cloud computing and virtualization are driving the move toward a software-defined fighting force.

A paradigm shift is happening inside the Defense Department. DOD organizations are embracing the idea that computing does not need to take place in a physical arena. This change is happening due to multiple macro-trends and technological innovations.

The current budgetary climate is forcing all agencies to reduce spending and make IT more efficient. This major trend is augmented by mandates driving data center consolidation efforts and desktop virtualization. Combined, these trends are accelerating the move towards the software-defined fighting force. It simply isn't logical any longer to think of defense IT as needing to be physical. 

Today, defense organizations are able to apply cloud computing best practices from Fortune 1000 companies to allow for more nimble applications for the warfighter, delivered when and where they need them. These applications can come from logically separated and physically separated locations. Virtualization is the key to providing speed and agility by liberating resources from physical limitations.

An easy way to explain this is to describe the traditional IT infrastructure scenario. A specific mission requirement is identified and needs to be provisioned. To meet that requirement, specific and siloed resources are spun up – server, operating system, data storage and networking. These resources are only used when called upon by the actual application or service in the field – otherwise they sit dormant.

Contrast the traditional scenario with a virtual cloud scenario. In this environment, there is one large pool of resources that are leveraged on an as-needed basis. Computing power, storage and networking resources are tapped only when the applications are in use. When they are not being used, the resources are released back to the pool, creating greater efficiencies. Resources are spun up and spun down on a constant basis. This is the new and more agile military IT scenario.

The virtual cloud scenario allows IT resources to be directed with pinpoint accuracy in real-time. By shortening the time required to go from concept, to test and through to production, the warfighter is better protected in the field. Greater IT agility makes military forces lean and lightweight, which is bad news for our adversaries.

Physical IT cannot possibly be as agile. In many ways, inefficiency is built into the traditional computing model. Going back to our traditional scenario again, let's assume the application being supported is used six hours a day. That's one quarter of a full day, yet the resources remain powered up and are sitting there for 24 hours. By design, this IT infrastructure is 75 percent inefficient.

A useful analogy is how electricity works in a home, which in many ways is as flexible as a virtualized IT infrastructure. The electricity in a home is there when needed, and when not needed it can be turned off and no costs are incurred. That's an effective virtual model.

To continue with this analogy, if the electrical power delivered to a home was based on the traditional IT model, we’d all need separate dedicated lines to each room ... all powered up 24/7. The bill at the month’s end would be whopping, after only using a fraction of the capacity.

That gives you an idea of the immense increase in computing power and efficiency that the virtual cloud enables, without requiring any additional staff, electricity, floor space or environmental footprint. Going virtual removes sunken costs for systems that are only needed some of the time. Computing capacity is liberated from physical limitations.

A virtual environment allows defense organizations to get resources where they are needed, and at the exact right time. This is the only thing that matters. Where these resources come from is secondary. In the field, situational awareness is maintained by the CAOC – Combined Air Operations Center. All of the resources in the area are pooled, and then projected by the CAOC to where they are needed most.

The virtual model has great benefits outside of theater as well. Application development can now take advantage of real-time collaboration and learning, speeding up the process dramatically. In addition, security is greatly enhanced. Rigorous policy rules can be more effectively enforced once data and applications are moved from end user devices to the data center. This is especially true in the area of insider data threats.

Moving beyond physical to virtual is a natural evolution for defense IT. It's more efficient and cost-effective. DOD has made great strides, but the transition must accelerate if we expect to maintain and enhance the IT superiority that supports America's warfighters. Potential adversaries aren't standing still, and neither can we.

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