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6/3/2010
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Army Suspends Server Buys Amid Cloud Plans

The CIO of the U.S. Army has imposed a moratorium on server purchases across Army operations.

The CIO of the U.S. Army has imposed a moratorium on server purchases across Army operations. It's a move aimed at stopping the proliferation of single-purpose physical servers while the Army begins consolidating data centers and creating compute clouds in select data centers.

The Army's CIO, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, issued a memo announcing the moratorium last month. "We want to review all server purchases" before they're made, said Michael Krieger, deputy CIO of the Army. Krieger discussed the Army's data center plans in an interview with InformationWeek at the recent Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington, D.C.

With 1.4 million users and an IT budget of about $10 billion, the Army is one of the largest IT organizations in the world. The clampdown on server purchases comes amid a resurgence of server sales to businesses, with server shipments jumping 23% in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, according to IDC.

The Army wants to exert control over server deployments as it prepares to consolidate data centers and, in the process, convert designated data centers into cloud computing environments that provide shared services across its operations. The Army, which has more than 200 data centers, is in the early stages of implementing that strategy, with funding designated for data center consolidation in its budget plans beginning in fiscal 2012, said Krieger.

The moves are consistent with an Obama administration policy requiring federal agencies to devise data center consolidation plans and encouraging the use of cloud computing as a potentially cheaper and more efficient way of providing IT services to government employees.

Phase one of the Army's data center consolidation initiative involves relocating data centers from Fort Belvoir (Virginia) and U.S. Army Forces Command (Georgia) to Redstone Arsenal (Alabama) and Fort Bragg (North Carolina). Those changes are tied to the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 2005, which involves shifting Army personnel and resources among bases and closing 14 facilities. Fort Knox (Kentucky), which will become the new home of the Army's Human Resources Command, is a "natural location" for a third major data center, Krieger said.

As part of its strategy, the Army is consolidating applications and virtualizing servers. Army Material Command, which provides technology and other resources to Army units, has already reduced the number of apps it makes available from more than 200 to about 90, for example.

Given its IT security requirements, the Army is most interested in private clouds. For example, it's considering making an existing application for employee awards available as a shared service. E-mail and enterprise service desk support are other potential cloud services, Krieger said.

The Army also will tap into cloud services made available by the Defense Information Systems Agency. One such service already used by the Army is Defense Connect, a DISA-managed version of Adobe's Acrobat Connect collaboration software. The Army is also using DISA's Rapid Access Computing Environment and Forge.mil development site to support its recently launched "Apps for the Army" development contest.

Army recruiters use Salesforce.com's CRM service to manage the contact information of potential recruits, but Krieger said the Army is reluctant to store the personal information of its employees outside its firewalls. "I don't think we're ready for a public cloud," Krieger said. "The problem with the public cloud is the security of the data."

Pockets of the Army--intelligence and battle command, for example--already have cloud environments that are available to authorized users. The bigger opportunity, Krieger said, lies with services offered more broadly on what he called "Army scale."

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