No more excuses: Army secretary orders shutdown of hundreds of data centers

Army Secretary Eric Fanning has issued highly detailed orders to three-and-four star generals in the Army's headquarters and functional and geographic commands,...

Saying the Army has dragged its feet for too long in implementing its share of the now seven-year-old Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, Army Secretary Eric Fanning has issued highly detailed orders to three-and-four star generals in the Army’s headquarters and functional and geographic commands, telling them precisely what must be done to close 60 percent of the service’s 1,200 data centers by the end of 2018 and 75 percent by 2025.

The 88-page directive lays out in exquisite detail which centers must be closed and by what date, lamenting that the Army is devoting too much of its $8.3 billion IT budget to systems, applications and brick-and-mortar server facilities it does not need.

The end objective is to move the vast majority of the Army’s systems to one of three environments: the Defense Information Systems Agency’s enterprise computing centers, commercially-run cloud services or a handful of regional Army Enterprise Data Centers (AEDCs) that the service will continue to own and operate.

“Progress in system and application virtualization and rationalization has been slow, and our data center closure and consolidation efforts have come to a virtual standstill,” Fanning wrote. “We can no longer afford the luxury of unconstrained IT expenses nor accept the risk to the Army and the nation posed by cyber threats directed against Army capabilities.”

The same memo gives Army commands until the end of January to migrate their desktop and laptop computers to Windows 10, a target that was previously established by the DoD CIO but that the Army has had a difficult time meeting.

The directive aims to get the Army almost entirely out of the business of running data centers, which today range from small closet-sized stacks of servers supporting a single base’s morale programs, to the large AEDCs that will eventually take over “enterprise” IT missions — those that are applicable to more than one base.

A formal implementation plan incorporated in the memo includes four such centers:  one at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, servicing bases in Southeastern states; one at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to take over for soon-to-be-closed data centers in the Midwest; one at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for bases in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and one at Fort Carson, Colorado, for Western bases. Each will be connected directly to the Joint Regional Security Stacks DoD is building to centralize its network defenses.

Another six AEDCs are planned for overseas bases, but Army officials have yet to determine their locations. Whether they’re located overseas or in the U.S., Army Cyber Command will take over all of the AEDCs’ management functions to make sure they’re operated in a consistent fashion.

But not all of the Army’s major systems are destined for AEDCs. Its six major business-oriented Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems — such as the Integrated Pay and Personnel System, the General Fund Enterprise Business System and the Global Combat Support System — will wind up in DISA’s MilCloud, and all of those systems must finish their migration by the end of fiscal 2018.

And base commanders will be permitted to hang onto some data centers, but under severe constraints.

The Army is allowing for locally-managed “installation processing nodes,” but the directive generally allows for only one in each state, and those data centers aren’t allowed to host anything that’s considered to be an “enterprise” application: one that’s used by Army units at more than one base. The directive also gives some leeway for local commands to run a handful of local systems that might be needed to keep vital functions running in the event a base is disconnected from DoD IT networks.

To help local commanders and IT managers work their way through the process of moving their systems to more centralized infrastructure, the Army created the Army Application Migration Business Office (AAMBO). That organization — part of the Army CIO’s office — offers advice on whether an application should be moved to the cloud, migrated into a larger data center or killed outright, but it’s also in charge of tracking each and every one of the Army’s application migrations. All commanders will have to deliver progress reports to AAMBO on the closure and consolidation plan Fanning ordered at least once per month

Fanning’s highly-prescriptive directive has been in the works for at least a year. Army IT leaders concluded it was necessary after a much gentler three-page 2014 memo from the Army undersecretary failed to gain traction, even though its objectives were almost identical.

This version, rather than merely laying out a statement of objectives, gives an individual to-do list to each of the generals that make up the Army staff at the Pentagon.

For local commanders who’ve been told to close data centers, it also offers one major carrot: They’ll be allowed to use any funds they save from shutting facilities in any given year to fund higher-priority IT projects, such as the DoD-mandated migration to Windows 10.

The Army’s analyses of its existing data centers point to massive inefficiencies. Each center requires human beings to operate and maintain the servers housed inside them, but in the aggregate, about 70 percent of the capacity of the Army’s current, locally-managed data center footprint is unused, according to AAMBO. And roughly 80 percent of the service’s applications amount to non-sensitive functions that could be hosted outside of Army bases without undue security risks.

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