How the Army trims apps before data center migration

How the Army trims apps before data center migration

The Army is using a multi-step process to rationalize and consolidate hundreds of applications as it embarks on a four-year data center migration project.

In a June memo, Brad Carson, undersecretary of the Army, directed local data centers to transfer enterprise applications to core Defense Information Systems Agency data centers. As a first step, however, the Army is shrinking its portfolio of applications instead of migrating all of its software en masse. The Army in July reported that it has already terminated about 800 unused apps, a move that the service says will reduce its expenditure on software licensing fees and upgrades.

The Army’s work is a component of Defense Department-wide technology consolidation, which in turn is part of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative. FDCCI, launched in 2010, has succeeded in shuttering hundreds of data centers, but the Government Accountability Office in 2013 questioned the extent to which the program was saving money.

Reducing the software portfolio, however, could prove to be a source of additional savings. The Office of Management and Budget noted that, “when an agency wants to have the most impact in optimizing its data centers, it needs to first rationalize its application inventory.”

Steps to consolidation

The Army’s winnowing operation begins with sorting and classifying applications. In this phase, the service uses the Army Data Center Consolidation Plan Tracking Tool to evaluate and rationalize Army applications and systems, according to Neal Shelley, chief of the Army Data Center Consolidation Division.

Shelley said this tool contains a list of Army-owned data centers and applications, and it lets the Army associate an application with its hosting data center.

Once an application owner adds an application to the inventory, it is “binned” – assigned to a tentative mission area and a domain. Mission areas include warfighter, business or enterprise information environment, and domains are assigned based on the Defense Department’s Joint Capability Area guidance, he said. A Joint Capability Area is a collection of similar DOD activities for investment decision making among other purposes.

Mission area and domain points of contact then validate or correct the binning of applications.

The next step is rationalization. Here, the application owner and the portfolio manager for a given Army command determine whether an application should be killed, retired, modernized or sustained. An Army portfolio manager, who takes the entire Army portfolio of applications into account, also weighs in on the decision, Shelley said.

If the views of the application owner, command portfolio manager and Army portfolio match, the application moves on to the categorization step. If not, the conflict is adjudicated at various levels, Shelley explained. He said conflicts on application decisions, as well as on binning, can be escalated to the 3-Star Army Business Council for final resolution, if necessary.

At the categorization stage, the application owner decides whether a candidate for modernization or sustainment is an enterprise or local application. “This will determine whether an application will continue to be hosted locally or will need to migrate to the enterprise level,” he explained.

Shelley said the final disposition of an application depends on such factors as timing, planned lifecycle upgrades, available funding and the sensitivity of the data an application uses.

Applications approved for migration to the enterprise level will get there with help from a brokerage service, the Army Application Migration Business Office, which the Carson memo describes as the “single point of contact for all application owners.” Shelley said the Army broker will help the application owner define requirements, connect with DISA and choose a servicing host.

Work in progress

The Army has already begun the task of migrating applications to DOD-approved facilities, according to Carson’s memo. All applications must be migrated by Sept.30, 2018, the document stated, and the command that owns the application must cover the cost of “migrating to and operating at an approved enterprise hosting facility.”

During the migration, older applications may run in parallel with new applications in the target environment. “Typically during transition, the original environment is maintained intact until the application demonstrates full functionality in its new state,” Shelley said.

However,  an application scheduled for termination may also continue to operate if the Army still needs to access its associated data. “The length of time for parallel operations or retention of the application’s capability or database – in the case of a termination – is determined on a case-by-case basis by the responsible command,” Shelley said.

Christian Heiter, chief technology officer of Hitachi Data Systems Federal, which pursues virtualization and consolidation projects, said organizations can create virtualized versions of old applications to keep them running during a transition. In certain situations, some users may not be able to migrate from the old version of an application to the new one. In that case, virtual machines can be built to run the old and new applications, which both touch the same common data, Heiter explained.

Heiter said he sees application rationalization and consolidation as a prominent activity among many agencies.

“Across the federal government, it is a wide ranging task,” he said.

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