US Army

NetCentrics and McData are leading the Pentagon's data-management overhaul

March 10, 2004

4 Min Read
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The US Army is reaping the benefits of high-availability storage area networks at its largest Pentagon data center, following a long-term upgrade project.

Swift and secure access to data is of paramount importance for all organizations, but few data centers can be as critical to U.S. national security as those located within the Pentagon. For these reasons, the decision was taken to replace an existing direct-attached storage architecture with state-of-the-art SANs, according to NetCentrics Corp. and McData Corp., two of the firms closely involved in the SAN project.

Not surprisingly, much of the Pentagon's IT infrastructure is kept well under wraps. The Pentagon itself was unavailable for comment on this article.

Even before terrorist attack on the building on Sept.11, 2001, the Pentagon was at the peak of its direct-attached storage capacity, with the Army alone experiencing data growth of 200 percent a year in 2001 and 2002, according to information on the project released by McData. The company also revealed that the direct architecture had produced islands of data, which made collaboration on projects difficult.

Data backup was also problematic, requiring substantial administrative hours to complete. Furthermore, McData said that the direct-attached architecture meant that establishing and maintaining agency-wide backup and data management policies was extremely difficult.The evidence in favour of SANs was overwhelming, with scaleability another area in need of improvement, as it required the procurement and installation of additional server-attached disks. This proved time-consuming, according to McData.

But, while the rest of the IT industry busied itself with Y2K, work was already well underway to overhaul the Armys data center infrastructure. In 1996, NetCentrics was engaged as a sub-contractor to manage the data center, and in the late 90s the company began working to migrate the military’s data to a SAN.

This involved migration from SCSI to Fibre Channel connections based on 6064 Intrepid Directors and 3000-Series Sphereon Fabric Switches from McData. These interconnect hundreds of application and database servers with disk arrays from vendors such as EMC Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. (see Pentagon Deploys Hitachi).

But the terrorist attack on Sept 11 meant that the SAN strategy was speeded up dramatically. “After 9/11, we realized that we had to have better redundancy of our data -- it gave us an impetus to establish remote images of the data,” says Bob Dixon, senior architect for engineering services at NetCentrics, which is based in Vienna, Va., near Washington.

This has now been completed, and the army is reaping the benefits of substantially higher availability than was previously possible. For example, the consolidated infrastructure has enabled NetCentrics to implement a SAN management database that quickly brings up new servers when hosts fail.Dixon says, “In order to meet our service-level agreements, we have to maintain a very high level of availability for the Army’s SAN -- our nation’s defense literally depends upon their employees’ ability to access, process, and communicate data.”

Another plus for the Army is that it can now consolidate all its help desk and backend server support -- effectively achieving greater economies of scale. Furthermore, the fact that servers use a common fabric in the shape of the McData directors means that monitoring, administration, and backup tasks can be performed in accordance with consistent data management policies.

Dixon says, “We’re much more aligned with commercial enterprise best practice, whereas previously there were small islands of capability for administration, management of systems, and the systems themselves”.

The Army’s SAN also forms part of the Pentagon Renovation Program (PENREN), a large-scale initiative to modernize the Department of Defense’s IT infrastructure, which also received fresh impetus in the aftermath of 9/11. Penren supports multiple agencies within the Pentagon, including the offices of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps.

McData is also heavily involved in the Penren project. Last October, for example, the company announced that SANs employing its products were providing more than 4,500 ports in support of the scheme.Of course, overhauling the IT infrastructure within one of the world’s largest buildings is no small undertaking, and a number of storage vendors have already answered the call to take part in the ambitious strategy.

In January, for example, EMC won a $40 million deal to build on the Pentagon’s existing infrastructure of one petabyte-plus of networked storage from the Hopkinton, Mass.-based firm and also develop its information lifecycle management (ILM) strategy. In a separate deal, Legato Systems Inc. was awarded a $4.3 million Penren contract (see EMC Wins $40M Pentagon Contract).

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum

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