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How Will the DISA “First” Data Center Strategy Work?

There were 6,100 servers in the DISA Defense Enterprise Computing Centers (DECC).   The Air Force, Army and the Defense Logistics Agency have adopted the “DISA first” strategy. DISA will be considered for application and data hosting before pursuing any other solution.

The prospect of budget reductions is now driving the efforts to eliminate redundant data center facilities. Data center consolidation is also offering opportunities to streamline network architecture and to improve network security. DISA has now assumed the responsibility for playing a key role for managing DOD’s data center consolidation strategy.

According to the OSD CIO there were 67,246 servers operating in DoD.  The question is how to fit approximately 90% of all enterprise servers into DECCs that currently delivers only 10% of the total server capacity?

The existing servers at DECCs are handling about 3,000 of isolated applications but do not operate as a cloud. Virtualization of server computing is proceeding, though the pooling of disk space, controls and communications is not done. To transfer servers from the services and agencies will require the restructuring of applications so that all computing can be pooled in a shared cloud. The capacity of DECCs to absorb additional workloads at lower costs needs to be demonstrated because the economic and technical feasibility of proceeding with massive consolidations needs to be shown.

The computing capacity at agencies and services is meanwhile growing at an extremely fast pace. For instance, close to 100 operating UAVs require 500 megabytes per second worth of bandwidth, or 500 percent of the total bandwidth of the entire U.S. military used during the 1991 Gulf War. Theoretically this adds up to 180 petabytes per hour to be tracked and stored somewhere. That storage vastly exceeds the available DISA storage capacity of about five petabytes. While DoD is speaking about a rapid pace of consolidation, the ability to achieve that while reducing capital and operating costs still needs to be reflected in reduced budgets for 2012-2015.

Consolidation of DoD data centers primarily into far more efficient and secure environments in DISA is the stated policy by the OSD CIO. However, provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act are likely to hamper ongoing efforts to start the migration with the transfer of the Army’s email to hosting by DISA. Although the obstacles may be organizational and political, the technical difficulties of executing the stated policy are likely to be very large.

The capital and operating costs are likely to shift the execution of the entire data center consolidation program from DECCs to commercial firms that can offer cloud services on demand and at competitive rates. The important task for DoD will be to engineer the cloud environment so that it will be able to be relocated for competitive reasons. The current DISA directions to proceed with a completely proprietary Microsoft solution for the Army must demonstrate that such flexibility will be preserved.

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