Army sees big savings in application modernization

The Army will achieve much bigger savings in the future from IT operations when the service can eliminate application duplication and prepare apps for movement to other environments, Col. Chris Miller, the Army’s data center consolidation program director, said at a brainstorming session.

To date, the Army has identified 16,000 applications that are running on the service’s networks at post camps and stations. Miller’s team is working with other Army Commands and portfolio managers to devise application modernization or rationalization approaches.

So far the Army’s data center consolidation efforts have been a “forklift operation,” moving servers from one location to another, said Miller, who works within the Army’s Chief Information Office/G-6.

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“We’re not showing the major efficiencies with doing that,” he said. “Where we’re going to save in the future in the Army is the elimination of the duplication that we have out there with all of our applications. Getting those applications modernized and ready to go to another environment is where the Army is going to make its biggest savings.”

Miller spoke June 19 at MeriTalk’s Data Center Brainstorm Exchange held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C, which focused on what agencies are doing to achieve greater efficiency and move to the data infrastructure of the future.

Just how many data centers the Army has is still an unknown. Miller estimates that the Army currently has 500 data centers. The target is to close 185 of them. The Army started reducing the number of servers the service had back in 2003, years before the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative was launched in 2010, he said.

The Army’s definition of a data center was a facility with 300 square feet or larger devoted to data processing. So even here, the Army had modified how it defined a data center before the FDCCI, which initially classified data centers as facilities of 500 square feet or larger but now defines one as a closet, room, floor or building for the storage, management and dissemination of data and information.

As the data center definition changes, the Army is still in the discovery stage. CIO/G-6 has teams at several post camps and stations actually doing a discovery and inventory of all data centers.

“It is important for us to get the figure right on the number of data centers we have so we can attack, virtualize, close and modernize our inventory to get it into an environment that is manageable,” Miller said.

“You ask, 'Wow, we have been doing this for several years now and we don’t even have the inventory, right?' ” he said. But the Army is working to get the inventory right so commands know which applications are running at each post, which applications are enterprise-capable, and which ones need to reside at local post camps or stations, he added.

The commands and portfolio managers update Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, CIO of Army/G-6, quarterly on their progress on application rationalization, Miller said, adding that senior management supports data center consolidation initiatives.

In the past, the Army has invested the majority of its money on infrastructure, rather than the application platforms. “Well, the paradigm shift has changed now,” he said. “What we are doing now is focusing on the application, using shared infrastructure and platform as a service.”

Those applications need to ride on a service-on-demand infrastructure versus the Army paying for applications over and over again, Miller said. Standardized server software is going to be critical as the Army moves forward. “We’re not there yet,” but Army/G-6 is working with industry partners, other DOD organizations and the Defense Information Systems Agency on areas such as establishing standardized network configurations, he added.

Army officials know there are technical solutions out there to help with data center consolidation, application rationalization and the move to cloud computing. However, the business and operations sides are also part of the equation as the Army determines which applications to move to DISA, the private cloud or a commercial hosting site, Miller noted.

Army CIO/G-6’s responsibility is to deliver the right information to the warfighter and decision-makers when they need it, he said, adding that commanders in the field want to be ensured that the same services are delivered if they are moved and there will be a significant return on investment. He cited the Army’s migration of enterprise e-mail to the cloud as a success story.

“Data center consolidation is not easy," Miller said. "Technology, we know it is out there. That is the easy part. The bigger challenge is the culture and politics."

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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