Air Force CIO outlines IT efficiency priorities

Lt. Gen. William Bender describes ways his service can become more IT efficient.

With information technology playing an increasingly important role in everyday operations, IT efficiency is critical for the future of the military.  “IT is ubiquitous in everything that [the Air Force Strategic Master Plan] says we’re going to do,” Lt. Gen. William Bender, the Air Force's CIO and chief information dominance officer, said as he touched on efficiency in several fundamental technologies.

Migrating to the cloud makes sense for many agencies, and the Air Force certainly sees the value.  Use of the cloud can get us, for “pennies on the dollar,” what the Air Force is paying today in terms of racks and servers, Bender said at a Dec. 2 event hosted by AFCEA. 

Other DOD leaders also have lauded leveraging the commercial cloud.  Lt. Gen. Alan Lynn, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said recently that the commercial cloud could free up network space and limit the surface that needs defending.  “[P]ush[ing] some of our lesser networks that don’t have a lot of security parts back up to the commercial cloud… reduces the number of networks I have to really protect,” he said at an event in November hosted by AFCEA’s Washington, D.C. chapter. “[Y]ou’re not trying to protect everything; you’re protecting what’s important.”

However, while migrating to the cloud is one way to increase efficiency, getting out of the data center business is another issue entirely, Bender said.   “I came into this job and I asked the question, ‘How many data centers do we have?’"  The answer? "We stopped counting at 440,” he told the audience.  Today, Bender said, he thinks the Air Force has close to 4,000 data centers.  “This is a big problem, and it’s hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  Arguably, it’s the second highest cost factor in the United States Air Force after jet fuel.”

Even more problematic, Bender described a Catch-22 budgeting system that prevents new solutions to tackle inefficiencies.  “It’s too easy for us to say we’re not going to take an efficiency in the budget process until it’s proven. And meanwhile I can’t prove anything without the money it takes to get started.” 

Bender also described how the Air Force must get more efficient at moving procurements from development to deployment.  He cited the Joint Tactical Receive Set radio as an example.  The contract was supposed to deliver a particular number of sets by 2006, but it was ultimately canceled without delivering anything -- all to the tune of about $6 billion of research and development.  Though, even if it did deliver, it would have been at a cost of about $397,000 per unit.  “That’s gross!” Bender exclaimed.

The iPhone, conversely, was envisioned in 2005, delivered in 2007 and improved in subsequent years for only $150 million in  R&D and a manufacturing cost of $299 per unit, Bender said.  While not making the case that the two are at all comparable – but noting that those in the field use iPhones – Bender declared that the old ways of doing business can't continue.

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