US Navy

Navy research sites look to save big bucks by standardizing on SAN technology

November 23, 2006

4 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Storage Networking World (SNW) -- Could SAN technology be a key weapon in the United States' defense strategy? Les Martin, tactical systems engineer for the U.S. Navy thinks so, and he predicts that storage networking will shave over $150 million dollars off the cost of developing ships and weapons by 2009.

The engineer, who is based at the Navy's Surface Combat Systems Center (SCSC) in Wallops Island, Va., told attendees at SNW that he is championing the technology as a way to boost both national security and bring some much needed standardization to his IT infrastructure.

"When I first suggested the use of a SAN to solve this problem -- I was the only one that saw this issue coming," he explained during a presentation yesterday.

Prior to 2001, when Martin hatched his plan, the SCSC, along with its partner research site in Dahlgren, Va., relied on a direct attached storage infrastructure containing a bewildering array of hard drives, many of which were fast becoming obsolete.

"To me, it was shocking," explained Martin, using the example of a 9-Gbyte drive technology that was no longer available. There was even a suspicion, according to the exec, that the overseas suppliers of the 9-Gbyte drives "were controlled by interests that were not in the best interests of national security."To get around these problems, Martin and his team deployed a SAN from Xiotech in 2004, consisting of a Magnitude 3D and a Classic system in Wallops Island, and the same hardware in Dahlgren. (See Xiotech Wins Contracts, Xiotech Supports Drives, Auctioneer Picks Xiotech, and Xiotech Intros Storage System.) The total capacity of the system, which uses 300-Gbyte Seagate drives, is somewhere between 50 and 60 Tbytes, according to Martin.

The exec estimates that using standard hardware could save the Navy more than $150 million between 2004 and 2009 by eliminating the many different types of media used in ship design. By way of example, the exec explained that the price for a single 9-Gbyte hard drive had reached $42,000.

The naval IT guru, however, did not reveal the exact technology used to link the different parts of the SAN, although he admitted that cost efficiency was a major driver behind the project.

The SAN deployment comes at a time when the Department of Defense (DOD) is coming under increasing budget pressure from Capitol Hill. After pumping billions into the DOD to fund the war on terror, the government is now looking for more bang for its bucks. Today, for example, research firm Input warned that increasing Congressional oversight and budget pressure is likely through the next federal budget cycle. (See Defense Budgets Under Scrutiny.)

Storage is also playing an increasingly important role for the U.S. military, which is becoming more and more technologically advanced. At last year's SNW, for example, Lt. Col. Karlton Johnson, a U.S. Air Force technology guru, urged storage vendors to meet the military's need for battle-ready kit. (See USAF Issues Storage Challenge.)But getting the SCSC SAN off the ground was easier said than done. "We contacted a couple of vendors, primarily vendors of combat and weapons systems, [but] they were not interested at the time to work with us," explained Martin. "They said that it was too hard," he added, without naming the specific vendors.

There was also some internal resistance to overcome. "Change is very difficult to deal with," admitted Martin. "If you're going to do something like this in your organization, you have to get familiar with that [unease] quickly and understand that each question is viable and justifiable -- you have to be prepared."

The exec, however, managed to get the backing of his senior management right from the outset, which helped pave the way for the SAN deployment.

The next stage for Martin and his team is to expand the SAN by deploying SATA-based MAID systems from Copan at the Wallops Island and Dahlgren sites. (See Copan Secures Patent, Copan Forms Partnerships, and Copan Cops $17.5M.) These, he told Byte & Switch will boost the SAN's capacity to around 500 Tbytes.

In the future, Martin is looking to develop a form of "portable SAN" that can be used on ships via an optical laser link. "That will give us a quicker picture for the admirals when they say 'How did testing go today?' " he said.The SCSC is planning to work with the applied physics lab at John Hopkins University and Xiotech to support this project, according to Martin.

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Copan Systems Inc.

  • Xiotech Corp.

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