Army leadership applies pressure on data center consolidation

Thursday - 12/15/2011, 7:04pm EST

In the Army, data center consolidationis no longer just a topic for the technology community. The service's top leadership has taken an interest in the issue, and they're pushing IT leaders to get the Army's consolidations done ahead of schedule.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, said data center consolidation is among the Army's most important priorities — not just for saving money, but for getting information where it needs to be so that soldiers can meet their mission.

Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army's vice chief of staff.

"Everyone thinks they're special, and that consolidation doesn't apply to your unique circumstances," Chiarelli told a private gathering of chief information officers from across the Army in a video message this week. "I've got news for you. You may be special, but you are not exempt. I need all of you to prioritize and dedicate resources, organize an effective team, and stay fully engaged."

The Army has committed to shutting down almost 200 data centers by 2015, nearly a quarter of the entire federal government's data center consolidation target. But Chiarelli said there's going to be a tendency to let that deadline slip to the right, and that the Army needs to make sure the opposite happens.

"I need you to make every effort to move the schedule to the left without breaking mission," he told CIOs. "We simply cannot wait until fiscal year '15 and hope the problem goes away. This migration is going to be watched very closely by the office of the Secretary of Defense and Congress over the next three years. The Army needs to lead the way. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it will save the Army millions of dollars at a time when every dollar counts."

Weeding out duplicative apps

Along with collapsing the service's data center inventory, Chiarelli is challenging Army IT managers to start weeding out unnecessary applications. He said the current count is 9,000 distinct applications on an estimated 24,000 servers.

"Now, that's only what we know about. I'm certain there's more," he said. "If I had to guess, I'd say we have double out there today. The goal is to reduce our applications by at least 50 percent while maintaining operational effectiveness. We absolutely can do this. Look at how the commercial world has been able to become more efficient. Amazon's cloud computing achieved its efficiencies by repeating one thing a million times. In contrast, the Army continues to hand-carve our systems. We do a million unique things one time each. We stopped handmaking our bullets a long time ago. We need to do the same thing with our servers and data centers."

Army CIO Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence.

The leader in charge of handling the Army's data center consolidation plans and the rest of the service's IT efficiency efforts is Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army's CIO. She said even though there are Office of Management and Budget mandates to handle IT more efficiently, the Army's not doing things like enterprise email or data center consolidation just for efficiency's sake.

"When I brief [Army] Secretary [John] McHugh on some of the successes we're having, I don't talk efficiencies," she said. "I told him, what we are doing is going to ensure we are not compromising effectiveness and that we are better protecting our networks and our information. The second-order effect is that we're gaining efficiencies as we do it."

Controlling the IT spend better

One challenge Lawrence said the Army is facing as it goes through data center consolidation is keeping new centers from being built along the way. And, her office is beginning to crack down. She's just signed a new policy memo that will restrict Army commands from making certain IT purchases.

"What we cannot have happen is as we're taking these data centers down-we've taken 32 down already-is for them to pop up somewhere else," she said. "Well, I know what makes up a data center, so they don't get to buy those things. That's what we have to be able to watch."

Consolidating data centers and reducing applications is one of the Army's pathways to creating a common operating environment across the service, and perhaps eventually across DoD. Lawrence said her office, along with the Army's acquisition chief, are playing an enforcement role there as well.

As the Army builds its integrated network baseline along common standards, industry will have to build its products to those standards if it wants to sell them to the service. And Army personnel will have to align to those standards too--something they don't always do today.

"What happens is we have our (program executive officers) who build their own data centers, who build their own network management tools, they buy their own GPS solution, they build their own product end-to-end," she said. "And the next thing you know, we're trying to integrate the network at Fort Bliss and I've got 28 different net ops tools that I have to try to kludge together. We're not going to do that anymore. That's not the common operating environment. And so, if a PEO wants to build a product, here are the standards that they're going to build to. Here are the tools you can use. Here is the common product you will use. You will not go buy your own."

Quarterly meetings

Lawrence said she and Army acquisition chief Heidi Shyu plan to hold quarterly meetings to assess how well the Army's program executive officers are complying with that baseline as the Army builds the common operating environment.

And the Army also is working to extend that common operating environment beyond its own service boundaries. As the executive agent for the networks of the joint U.S. European Command and Africa Command, the Army has extended its own environment into those areas of responsibility.

"AFRICOM and EUCOM have shut down their own networks, their own workforce, and we are the single service provider for the entire European theatre now," she said. "The Pacific has asked us to come over and see if we can do the same thing for them. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says, 'okay Susan, I've got it. When are you going to do us?' The entire Joint Staff is going to move over into this environment at the end of January or early February."

And Lawrence said she's in close consultation with the CIOs of the other military services, working toward a longer term goal of a common, joint operating environment for the entire Defense Department.

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