Dec 31 2009

Extreme Storage Makeover

Agencies are dumping their rickety old information silos for the speed and flexibility of networked storage. The results are faster access to information, reduced costs and enhanced scalability.

The government's storage
infrastructure is in the
midst of a complete
makeover, and the Defense
Department is in the
thick of it. DOD
components in the Air Force, Army,
Marine Corps, National Guard and Navy
are turning in their aging information
silos for storage area networks (SANs)
that enable secure access to data from
across the nation and overseas.

The 45th Space Wing of the Air Force
uses storage technology in a two-pronged
campaign to make its systems more
efficient and effective. Because each of its
servers had its own direct-attached
storage, backups took a long time,
systems were slow to recover from a crash
and network performance suffered.

To resolve these problems, the 45th
Space Wing implemented a centralized
storage environment for Patrick Air
Force Base (AFB), Cape Canaveral and a
network of stations throughout the
Atlantic. No longer tied to individual
servers, storage is pooled in several large

"We have increased our storage
capacity to 6.5TB [terabytes], cut the
number of servers by 33 percent in some
areas and reduced backup times by 80
percent," says Glenn Exline, 45th Space
Wing manager of advanced technology at
Patrick AFB.

The number of similar storage
projects is rising. Larstan Business
Reports in Washington, D.C., surveyed
142 IT professionals from 37 federal
agencies. According to Larstan's report,
published this year, 73 percent of the IT
pros said storage solutions are an integral
part of their agency's infrastructure
modernization initiatives, and 59 percent
plan to upgrade their storage systems
during the next 12 to 18 months.

Adding Up the Benefits

If storage consolidation is done correctly,
it can yield faster and more reliable access
to information, as well as lower
management costs, greatly reduced
backup times and easier scalability for
future data growth.

Those types of benefits are what the
Army National Guard was striving for
when it consolidated data in SANs
deployed across 50 states and four U.S.
territories. Consolidated data, which is
stored in mainframe, UNIX and
Windows environments, provides higher
data availability for applications such as
finance, personnel and logistics.

"Some local offices have increased
their storage capacity by as much as 10
to 20 times, but they are still able to
manage it with the same storage
administration staff," reports Larry
Borkowski, deputy chief of the Plans,
Programs and Policy Division of the
Army National Guard. "Some [offices]
are even able to redirect some of their
time to other critical IT tasks."

As with most IT projects, the
complexity involved in networked
storage means that it is almost always
best to start small. The National Guard
began at its head office before rolling
out a standardized model to 54 offices.
It used the same basic SAN architecture
at each site to improve the project's

Keeping Storage Costs Down

With large projects routinely involving
seven-figure sums, it's important to keep
a close eye on costs, says Navy Capt. Ben
Long, a member of the Medical Service
Corps and program manager for the
Resources Information Technology
Program Office (RITPO). "A critical
factor for cost management is to fully
understand your operational needs prior
to implementing a solution," he says.

It's crucial for RITPO, a division in
DOD's TRICARE Management Activity,
which designs and maintains systems
to support the 4 million worldwide
customers of the Military Heath System.
"This requires significant planning and
coordination with the end-user
community prior to selecting a storage
solution," Long says.

To keep costs in check, you must
know why you're implementing a SAN,
says Exline of the 45th Space Wing. "By
understanding your requirements and
what benefits you want to leverage, you
can find the niche that balances
performance, cost and future growth," he
adds. "That way, you avoid buying an
ICBM when all you need is a fly swatter."

"Government—or any enterprise, for
that matter—must get a qualified value-added reseller or integrator involved, as
there is nothing like experience when it
comes to SANs," says Steve Duplessie,
founder and senior analyst of Enterprise
Storage Group, an analyst firm in
Milford, Mass. "There can be a ton of
gotchas if you aren't prepared up front."

That preparation should include a
learning curve, according to the Air
Force's Exline. To believe that you can
reinvent your entire infrastructure and
move 20,000 users in three months is
unrealistic, he says.

"Training, training and more
training" is a surefire way to lower the
costs of day-to-day support and reduce
dependence on vendors for system
design, Exline points out, adding that
independence should come only after
bringing in the experts to help get a
project rolling.

"By being self-sufficient to as great a
degree as possible, we save quite a lot on
support costs," he says. "It also means
quicker resolution of most issues, as we
know our environment better than
anyone else and will have done all the
correct preliminary checks before we
escalate a problem to the vendor."

As the volume of data grows, more
managers turn to SANs to simplify storage.
But without adequate oversight of these
complex storage resources—which may
be a continent away from users they
support—government managers should
expect lots of firefights and little sleep.


An October 2003 survey of 142 IT pros at 37 federal agencies by
Larstan Business Reports, a Washington, D.C., research firm, found:

Importance of storage is growing to support e-government initiatives:

Agree 86%

Disagree 5%

Don't know 8%*

Storage at my agency is optimized to support e-gov mandates:

Agree 32%

Disagree 43%

Don't know 24%*

My organization must implement storage to share data with other
government agencies:


Don't know 16%

*Figures don't add up to 100% because of rounding.


Fibre Channel (FC) storage
area networks (SANs), the
powerful and expensive draft
horses of the storage industry,
now have a less powerful, but
less expensive competitor: the
Internet Protocol (IP) SAN.

FC SANs use fiber-optic
technology and offer high
bandwidth to manage, back up
and send large amounts of data.
One advantage is that they
remove storage and backup
traffic from the network,

IP SANs, in contrast, offer
storage consolidation without
the need to buy and install FC
devices and cables throughout
the organization.