How the Navy plans to run a tighter IT ship

CIO says data-center consolidation, trimming of redundant applications, wireless devices and a cloud-based architecture are on the agenda.

Faced with changing technologies and a tight fiscal environment, the U.S. Navy is rethinking how it buys business-related IT systems. To meet its goals, the service is looking at trimming redundant data centers, applications and older systems from its networks.

In revising its business model, the Navy was also willing to accept some risks that these processes may not entirely work out as planned, Navy CIO Terry Halvorsen said at a Pentagon press briefing Aug. 23. One reason that the Navy is willing to change its IT management processes and experiment with new techniques and methods is because it does not primarily affect direct warfighting capabilities. “This is a better area to take it than some other areas,” he said.

The Navy is focusing on data-center consolidation, application redundancy, data storage and management, enterprise licensing, and governance. Reducing the number of data centers reflects changing technologies and a move to a cloud-based architecture. When many of the Navy’s data centers were built, Halvorsen said, they had to be located close to users because the applications at the time were not built to work on networks. This is no longer the case, he said.

Application reduction will allow the Navy to eliminate many of its thousands of software programs. The process will also allow the service to clean house on its networks by removing old software. Cutting the number of applications and making sure that existing versions are up to date also means improved security in network performance, he said.

Smarter acquisition for IT systems and services is another Navy goal. One example is the service’s plans to purchase cell phones and other wireless devices. Although the Navy can purchase the devices in a more cost-effective way, Halvorsen said the actual savings are in bundling and usage plans based on user need. But he added that an organization as large as the Navy will have to conduct some analysis to get the process right.

In the area of commercial services and applications, the Navy is considering bundling licenses. One recent example of this is an agreement with Microsoft to provide services across the department. The service is looking at other companies as well, Halvorsen said. The goal is to make bulk purchases of software and services, which, while initially expensive, will save money over the long term. “If you want to save big money, you have to spend,” he said.

The service is also exploring reducing its legacy network structures to save money and improve performance. There is a lot the Navy can do in this area, Halvorsen said. This assessment for trimming old systems is based on industry examples and on how the Navy is structured, he said.

As it moves to a more cloud-based architecture, the Navy has already deployed some instances of thin- and zero-client systems on its networks. The service is now conducting analysis to determine where to expand these capabilities, Halvorsen said. When thin- and zero-client systems are being installed, there are a number of considerations, such as user need. For example, he said, 90 percent of Navy thin- and zero-client users accessed office-type software.

The Navy now needs to determine if it is more efficient to access software from the network or to load it directly onto a desktop or laptop. “You have to do that dual analysis to know where that makes sense,” Halvorsen said. The service is now assessing whether it makes sense to use more thin and zero clients for use on its nonsecure IP network, NIPRnet, which he describes as a growth area.

Regarding widespread adoption of wireless devices in the Navy, Halvorsen said that the service is moving towards a more mobile workforce. However, he added that there are security considerations in the Defense Department that most commercial companies do not have. As more mobile devices are approved through DOD, the Navy will expand the number of devices available to personnel. But the challenge is in determining how to securely open up the devices to a wider set of providers, he said.

Although he could not provide a timetable, Halvorsen said the move to wireless devices is a major topic of discussion within the Navy and the DOD. “Right now, we are predominantly a BlackBerry-based mobile device organization, and we are working hard with all the right agencies — all the right vendors — to open that up,” he added.


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