Navy issues first contract under new data center consolidation plan

The Navy has just awarded the first of what it says will be several contracts aimed toward resetting its data center consolidation efforts. Service leaders said they were not happy with the progress they had been making up until now, and that the new plan will rely heavily on commercial hosting providers.

On Tuesday, the Navy made an award to IBM for what officials are calling “Tier 1” of the service’s new Data Center and Application Optimization (DCAO) program. Officials didn’t immediately disclose the terms of the deal nor its total value, which it awarded through GSA’s governmentwide Alliant contract vehicle, but the initial phase of the project is intended to get the wheels moving on reducing the Navy’s overall number of applications and re-engineering business processes around its data centers.

The DCAO program entered the planning stages late last year after officials concluded their existing data center consolidation plans were moving too slowly, said Vice Adm. Ted Branch, the deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance.

“We were kind of plodding along and not really on a pace to achieve our objectives, so we changed to a ‘go big’ strategy and increased the scope of the effort,” he told attendees at the annual Navy IT Day hosted by AFCEA’s Northern Virginia chapter in Tysons Corner, Virginia. “We’re going to end up moving 7,000 or so systems and applications into data centers. We’re going to need a lot of commercial hosting to do that and a lot of commercial services to make that work. There are going to be more contracts ready to go by the end of the fiscal year so that these system owners can go out and find companies to help them move that data and perhaps reach some hosting arrangements.”

Beyond moving applications and systems into a smaller number of centers, the Navy also plans to terminate many that duplicate one another or that have outlived their useful life. Service IT leaders have identified a set of 1,400 what they’re calling application “capabilities,” and say their goal is to eliminate at least half of them.

The Navy plans to make several other awards covering other tiers of the program between now and October. Work on those contracts will involve virtualizing Navy servers, doing the actual legwork of migrating systems into a consolidated set of Navy, joint military and commercial data centers, and procuring commercial hosting services.

And officials say they plan to make as much use as commercial hosting as possible. John Pope, the director of the DCAO program, said the goal is to move 75 percent of the data into privately-run facilities.

“The first decision is going to involve whether it needs to stay in a DoD facility. What are the rules for that? Does it, for example, have Navy nuclear power information, because there are certain restrictions on where that can go,” Pope said. “Then the question is should it go into a [Navy enterprise data center] or a DoD data center based on rates and technical factors. But my goal is to maximize what I can put into a commercial hosting environment. One of the things we’re working on is to get the rate cards so that you can compare them against each other, because right now it’s like reading ingredient labels in a supermarket. It’s very difficult to do a left-right comparison of different hosting costs.”

And as it reorganizes its data center footprint, Pope said the Navy is doing all it can to also consolidate and reduce the number of different IT architectures operating in the facilities. Officials say they’re settling on a relative handful of system designs so they can run them more securely and operate them more cheaply.

“As we move legacy applications, there are some cases where things need to run on a very specific hardware stack, but we’ll do the best we can to get to a standard stack,” he said. “Our SPAWAR chief engineer earlier this year did publish version 1.0 of our hosting standards, and the idea is tell our application developers that if they build to a standard stack, whether it’s a Unix or a Windows stack, it will offer them the most protection and offer us the opportunity to host them and field them in the most economical way.”

The Navy says its current count shows it is running 226 data centers in the continental U.S. The eventual objective is to reduce that number to 20, some of which will be commercial data centers, some run by the Navy, and some by the Defense Information Systems Agency or other military services.

Janice Haith, the Navy’s deputy chief information officer, said the Navy has already reached a deal with the Marine Corps to use the Marines’ main enterprise data center in Kansas City, Missouri, as a backup continuity of operations site for Navy data.

“We plan to optimize that environment in a way that doesn’t impact the Marine Corps, but allows the Navy to shift our critical capabilities for COOP there so we can get fail-over capabilities we haven’t had before,” she said. “We had a flood in Millington, Tennessee, a few years ago and it created a big problem for us. We’re not going to experience that anymore.”

The DCAO program is mainly focused on unclassified and secret level data, but Haith said it’s also time for the Navy to start wringing efficiencies out of the systems it maintains for intelligence data – something she says hasn’t gotten enough attention so far.

“We have had a heavy, heavy focus this year on intelligence and what we’re going to do with IT in that area,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do there. It’s going to go through the same scrutiny we’re doing right now for the non-intel side. Our biggest organization that produces intel for us is the Office of Naval Intelligence. They didn’t really know who we were in the CIO’s office. They do now, and they’re not too happy with it.”

Like the rest of government, the Navy has been working on the issue since at least 2010, when the White House launched the federal data center consolidation initiative. But officials say they need to move faster — and not just to comply with OMB mandates.

“We have multiple data center facilities, we have noncompliance with standards, we have multiple duplicative systems in our portfolios,” said Randy Darrow, the Navy’s director for IT efficiencies and analysis. “We have past-end of service life systems and apps and platforms out in the fleet. We have shrinking operational and R&D budgets. We have ever-evolving federal regulations and DoD policies we have to stay in sync with, and we have an ever-increasing cybersecurity threat to our systems, our networks and our data. But through the establishment of enforcement and compliance with standards across the department in a balanced IT portfolio management approach, we’ll be able to lower and better control our operational IT spending and continue to meet our mission and security requirements at best value.”


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