Army plots next steps toward data center consolidation

Friday - 2/21/2014, 3:42am EST

Jared Serbu reports.

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The Army says it has made substantial progress toward implementing the data center consolidation plan it rolled out almost three years ago. It has shuttered more than 100 of them.

But the service is developing new guidance designed to bring it in line with the way the Pentagon currently thinks data ought to be managed.

The Army's total count of data centers has fluctuated over time since closing those facilities became a governmentwide priority in 2010. Its current inventory is nearly 1,000, and under DoD and Office of Management and Budget guidance, a "data center" can mean everything from a state-of-the-art, purpose-built facility to a couple of servers sitting under a desk.

Still, the Army says it's ahead of its goal to close down 200 centers by 2015, with shuttering 165 so far.

But in the years since the Army built its initial plans, the Defense Department has refined its approach to data center consolidation, deemphasizing the idea that the military services should each close down data centers as a goal unto itself. Instead, the Pentagon has made it a priority to move to shared, enterprise services as part of a set of joint DoD-wide core data centers.

"Our focus in the past has really been on facilities. Do I close that room, move those servers somewhere else? There actually are some efficiencies to be gained there," said Gary Blohm, the director of the Army's Architecture Integration Center. "But right now, we're focused on migrating to DoD core data centers. In the end, it's really about the data and applications, it's not about where the facilities are located. We're going to provide guidance to all our system owners, and we intend to get that signed out by the undersecretary of the Army by the end of March."

New memo coming

Under guidance DoD Chief Information Officer Teri Takai issued last year, DoD's new Joint Information Environment (JIE) still will let individual military services operate data centers on their own bases, but only for functions that are specific to a given service or mission.

Everything that's considered an "enterprise service," such as email, will need to be migrated within the next four years to the core data centers, most of which will be operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency.

"Our definition of an enterprise service is a system that serves more than one post, camp or station," Blohm said. "That's practically everything, and that move is going to be very challenging. The memo we're sending out at the end of March will be very short, but the appendices are going to talk to how we do this. What are the processes? How do you get it into the right environment so that DISA can accept it into the core data centers? That's going to be a challenge, as well as how we're going to pay for it. We're going to have to work through that this year."

In order to make the move to a mostly-joint IT environment, the Army will focus a large amount of attention over the next several years toward eliminating individual IT applications. Many of those software programs are duplicative.

A business application built by staff at Fort Polk, La., for example, might serve almost exactly the same function as their counterparts at Fort Carson, Colo., several years ago. The challenge is deciding which applications to keep, and which ones fit most neatly into DoD's new joint security architecture.

"We're trying to not just collapse applications, but eliminate them. And it's a very emotional process when you tell someone their application has to be eliminated," Blohm said. "We have processes we're laying out, and we'd love to get feedback on them, but if we move all of the applications that we have now into the core data centers, we will have failed. One of the costs that's really eating the Army's lunch is software maintenance. We're not going to address that without eliminating applications, and we have multiple commands and multiple posts doing the same kinds of services."

$70 million saved

During the early stages of the Joint Information Environment's buildout, the Army, Air Force and DISA already have agreed to dramatically increase the bandwidth available to each U.S.-based military installation so that they can access data that used to be housed locally, but might now be stored on servers across the country.

Blohm said the services and DISA still must work out details in the area of what level of service DISA will provide in the joint data centers, and how much it will charge the military services.