The Redstone Arsenal facility, located near Huntsville, Ala., seen here from the air in this September 2011 Army photo. 

Jan 09 2017

Army’s Cloud Pilot Lays the Foundation for Data Center Consolidation

The Army aims to work with IBM on a cloud trial at the Redstone Arsenal facility in Alabama to improve its efficiency and serve as a test case for shuttering data centers.

The Army, like the rest of the federal government, has clear marching orders: close down and consolidate data centers. The service branch is hoping to use a cloud pilot at its Redstone Arsenal garrison in Alabama as a test case for consolidating data centers and upgrading its IT infrastructure.

The pilot, which the Army first announced in July 2016, is designed to test how information (including highly sensitive data) can be securely moved to the cloud within the Defense Department. However, the long-term goal is to use the pilot as a path forward to shutter data centers.

Getting the Cloud Pilot Launched

In October, the Army awarded IBM the $62 million contract, which includes one base year and four option years, during which IBM is expected to build, then own and operate, a data center for the Army at Redstone Arsenal, located near Huntsville, Ala. However, the contract was protested by an unsuccessful bidder, according to Federal News Radio.

As the site reported: “The project, known as the Army Private Cloud Enterprise, represents the first time the Army has contracted with a private company to run a large-scale data center inside the gates of a military installation.”

When the pilot was unveiled, the Army said it wanted to use the pilot to deploy hybrid cloud environments that include a combination of on-premises DOD cloud environments (such as a milCloud), commercial cloud service providers, and off-premises federal cloud environments (such as those operated by other agencies).

“Lessons learned from this pilot will provide critical information needed to mature application migration and cloud management processes and procedures,” the Army said in a statement to Federal News Radio at the time. “This award represents the first step in actualizing the Army cloud computing strategy.”

Redstone seemed to be an ideal environment for the pilot, because there are 24 data centers there, 11 of which are used by the Army and will be consolidated as part of the pilot. “Not everything is going to move to the cloud, but we believe this is going to enhance mission command, create a common user experience, reduce our IT and operations costs and reduce our fiscal footprint,” Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, the Army CIO, said in October.

Closing Down Army Data Centers

In August, the Office of Management and Budget officially released its Data Center Optimization Initiative, which is aimed at consolidating inefficient data center infrastructure, optimizing existing facilities, improving security, achieving cost savings, and pushing toward more energy-efficient infrastructure, cloud services and interagency shared services.

The Defense Department, which is behind schedule on data center closures, said in August that it would launch a “data center closure team to assess and recommend closures of the costliest and least efficient facilities beginning in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017.” That work began in November.

Meanwhile, the Army, which has about 1,200 data centers of its own, has closed about 57 percent of its data centers since fiscal 2011 and will end up closing about 752 by the end of fiscal 2018, Ferrell told Federal News Radio in mid-December. Ferrell said the Army’s goal is to reduce that number to 10 so-called “enduring sites,” with six abroad and four in the continental United States — Fort Carson, Fort Knox, Fort Bragg and Redstone Arsenal.

“What that will do as we start pushing the effort of closure and consolidation, it will let the units know which are the enduring sites so they aren’t guessing and they can do the early adoptions or put a time schedule on to move their apps,” Ferrell said.

The cloud pilot will help the Army figure out how to construct its data centers moving forward as the service relies more on private companies to host its data. The trial will hopefully help give the Army confidence that its data in the cloud is both secure and accessible.

“We are very enthusiastic about the ability to move forward with the cloud technology for the Army. We see from an efficiency and from an operational standpoint that’s the way we need to go for the Army,” Ferrell said. “Anywhere I can gain more efficiency from an ‘as a service’ than owning it, it’s a big deal for the Army because it brings the quality, partnerships and relationships on both sides of the table.”

Army Secretary Eric Fanning on Jan. 10 issued a directive on shutting down data centers that codifies the enduring sites, and sets up a new governance structure with tasks, schedules and timelines. The directive spells out what the Army needs to do to close 60 percent of the service’s 1,200 data centers by the end of 2018 and 75 percent by 2025.

“Having the Secretary of the Army put out guidance saying this is what he would like done by when is very helpful for us to get to the end state designed” by the Office of Management and Budget, Ferrell said.

Ellen Hudson, USAG Redstone/U.S. Army

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.