By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Feb. 13, 2017) -- The Army has reduced the number of data centers across the force by about 38 percent and has, in one area, already exceeded a reduction goal set by the Office of Management and Budget.
In December, then Army Secretary Eric Fanning issued a memorandum re-emphasizing Army goals for data center consolidation, as well as the reduction in enterprise applications that must happen in tandem with the consolidation.
As part of its data center consolidation plan, 1,157 Army Enterprise Data Centers have been identified for closure across the force. According to a Feb. 6 report from the Army's Office of the Chief Information Officer/G-6, 94 of 230 "tiered data centers," or 41 percent, have been closed already. That exceeds OMB's requirement of 25 percent.
Additionally, 344 of 927 "non-tiered data centers," or 37 percent, have been closed.
GOAL OF 10
The end-state for the Army, according to Gary Wang, the deputy CIO/G6, is to bring the total number of Army Enterprise Data Centers down to about 10 by 2025. Six of those will be located outside the continental United States. The other four, inside the continental United States, will be located at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
"Security has been a driver," said Wang of the reason for the closing of so many Army data centers. "But cost efficiency has also been a benefit. The other intangible kind of benefit that industry has kind of noticed is that it forces the organization to be more agile, in terms of being able to adjust to environmental kinds of things that happen."
Preparing the 10 data centers that will remain ready to service the entire Army is also part of the initiative. That will mean, according to Wang, ensuring the data centers are consistent in terms of standards and "how they offer their services."
"Part of it is making sure ... the environments are consistent across the board, so essentially you can go to any one of the four [U.S. locations], and ideally they would be identical," he said. "But I'd be happy with 95 percent."
SAVING $56 MILLION
To date, progress on Army Enterprise Data Centers consolidation has included the decommissioning of 2,848 servers, the reduction of the amount of floor space housing servers by about 154,000 square feet, and a cost savings of more than $56 million.
According to A.J. Bognar, the Army's lead for data center consolidation, a data center can be a single server under a desk, or much more. "If it computes and stores data, it's a data center," he explained. "It could be one server, or it could be a more traditional type of facility, a brick-and-mortar facility with many racks of computing equipment, many servers and storage devices."
The data centers being targeted for closure and consolidation are typically those that host a large number of Army enterprise applications that serve more than one installation, according to Wang. Those applications are typically multi-user, web-based applications that perform business, warfighting, command and control, and other enterprise functions.
A reduction of the number of applications the Army uses across the force will be required before the remaining applications can be migrated to the data centers that will remain, Bognar said.
"The biggest part is getting the applications out of the data center," he said. "In order to do that we have to make sure the application is ready to move into the enterprise environment. Is the application virtualized?"
SHARING VIRTUALIZED ENVIRONMENT
Bognar said that applications the Army now uses -- some of which are decades old and were written for now-outdated operating systems -- typically run one application to one server. To achieve a consolidation of data centers, those applications will need to run in a virtualized environment. That means that many applications, Bognar said, could end up running on a single server.
"You can see how we can gain efficiencies there," Bognar said. "Instead of hosting 100 racks, I can go down to five racks."
To make that happen, application owners must first invest to update those applications to run in such an environment.
"We have to modernize as well if we want to be successful in an enterprise-hosting environment," he said. In addition, the applications must be updated to comply with more robust security requirements, he said.
The Army also hopes to reduce the total number of enterprise applications in use.
"Part of the cloud drive is what we call application rationalization," Wang said. "What we found is a number of commands may procure or buy commercial off-the-shelf applications, but it could be six flavors of the same function. It becomes very unwieldy. Sometimes they can have interoperability issues if you want to move data."
Wang said supporting such a wide variety of applications, many of which perform the same function as other applications already in use by the Army, is both costly and complex.
Application rationalization, he explained, is an effort to reduce the number of applications in use across the Army in areas such as human resources, finances, logistics and engineering.
"[It's] saying we don't need three versions of financial manipulation software," he said.
EFFICACY AND EFFICIENCY
Wang envisions the Army ultimately turning to commercial cloud services later in the consolidation effort to provide a portion of the computing power to the force.
For now, he said, it's likely that about 90 percent of applications would run on government-owned, government-operated systems, with the remaining 10 percent running on corporate-owned, corporate-operated systems located on military bases. But he hopes that will change.
"Over time I'd like it to be the other way, where it's maybe 10 percent where we own stuff," he said.
The Army will need to keep some computing power in-house, he agreed, for certain applications such as quantum computing or other highly classified operations. But eventually, he said, he envisions that "most of the stuff," such as "back-office stuff and programs-of-record kinds of things," should be running on commercial cloud services that are located on military installations.
As the Army marches toward its 2025 goal of 10 data centers, Bognar said, the effort will increase not just the Army's efficiency, but mission efficacy.
"As we advance toward the end state, we will be driving more and more toward a cloud type of environment. In a cloud environment you have this ability to provide the appearance of infinite computing power to the user," he said.