USAF Issues Storage Challenge

Lt. Colonel challenges vendors to meet military's complex storage needs

October 26, 2005

3 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Storage Networking World -- Troops in the middle of battle don't want to have to figure out how to get storage networks provisioned. Lt. Col. Karlton Johnson, a U.S Air Force technology guru and member of the Army War college, offered up that verbal bombshell as part of an SNW keynote today.

When you have bullets coming at you, it’s a really bad day to figure out how technology works,” he said. In that vein, he used his time in front of some of the biggest vendors in storage to highlight the hassles of getting different technologies to work together. “Make sure that your stuff is integrated successfully with them and then bring it to us.”

Johnson also urged storage vendors (who are themselves no strangers to acronyms and bewildering techno-babble) to get on board with military-speak. “You have got to understand our jargon, and when you come into our yard, talk to us in a way" that reflects an understanding of the lexicon and acronyms of the U.S. military, Johnson said.

Vendors may even have to check out the environments in which their technologies will be deployed, according to Johnson. “I would never want to send anybody unnecessarily into harm’s way but you have to have some way of understanding what we do,” he said. This, for example, could be the effects of sand blowing into hardware in desert deployments or how to make air conditioning work outside the U.S.

That said, the U.S Air Force has already had some successes with its storage network, based in its Network Operations and Security Center (NOSC) and linked to a number of Network Control Centers (NCCs) that dot the globe. The recent devastating tsunami in southeast Asia proved the value of storage networks, with the Air Force successfully completing 58,000 error-free backups in the affected region. “We were also able to employ centralized storage management through our NOSC,” added Johnson. “That helped us support the warfighters and teams supporting the tsunami [relief] effort.”Despite the difficulties of working with such a complex and demanding organization, the Air Force remains a cash cow for vendors. A number of data-intensive projects are currently underway, according to Johnson, from efforts to tackle friendly-fire incidents to new forms of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Previously, UAVs, also known as drones, were used predominantly for aerial reconnaissance. But the Air Force is increasingly looking to load weapons onto the aircraft, which means that more data will need to be captured and stored. The same applies to linking different technologies on the battlefield to prevent attacks on non-combatants or friendly forces. “We’re trying to figure out how to improve that sharing of data,” said Johnson. “By using critical technologies such as storage networking, everyday we are getting closer and closer.”

But it is not just vendors that have interoperability issues. Johnson admitted that the different Air Force command centers around the world have their own ways of doing things. Technology standards for storage networking in the European command, for example, are different from those in the Pacific region. “We’re one Air Force, so we’re trying to break down these barriers at an Air Force level and get everybody standardized,” he said.

Kevin Brown, vice president of marketing at security storage vendor Decru Inc., which works with all branches of the U.S military, was hardly surprised by Johnson’s obsession with standards and interoperability. “The interoperability side is huge,” he said. “Like the enterprise, the [military] have heterogeneous environments with huge amounts of equipment from all the major vendors.”

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum0

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