SANs Are In The Navy Now - InformationWeek

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6/10/2005
03:11 PM
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SANs Are In The Navy Now

The U.S. Navy turns to storage area networks to make sure weapons-system software is tested and deployed quickly.

The U.S. Navy wants to test, approve, and deploy new and upgraded weapons-system software more quickly. Linking storage area networks between the Navy's Surface Combat Systems Center in Wallops Island, Va., and the Naval Sea Systems Command in nearby Dahlgren, Va., in order to share data that simulates a warship's IT-enabled environment, is a big step toward that end.

As the Navy's fleet of warships has grown more complex over time, the Wallops Island facility's ability to move and store data securely on hard drives and optical disks became overtaxed. The solution last August was to replace existing storage gear with a Magnitude 3-D storage area network from Xiotech Corp.

The Surface Combat Systems Center plans by October to take the next step of networking its SAN with Xiotech SANs implemented last year at the Naval Sea Systems Command. Navsea Dahlgren Division, as it's known, works with Lockheed Martin Corp. to build the combat system computer programs that are tested at Wallops Island for final certification.


Martin envisions a day when SANs will connect ships at sea and facilities.

Martin envisions a day when SANs will connect ships at sea and facilities.
By linking the Dahlgren and Wallops Island SANs electronically over a high-speed Fibre Channel connection, the Navy wants to speed the testing and certification process for the software that runs its weapons systems. "The admirals that run these ships want to speed up the testing process," says Les Martin, a tactical systems engineer for the Surface Combat Systems Center. "We have the facility that most closely mirrors their shipboard operations."

Because of the number of tapes and hard drives involved in each test, as well as the physical security required to transport this media, analysts from NavseaDD sometimes have to wait as long as 10 days to receive the data from Wallops Island. Once the SANs at both locations are connected via TCP/IP, it will be possible to send data back and forth in near-real time.

In addition to the main benefit of connecting SANs to test, approve, and deploy new and upgraded weapons-system software more quickly, a secondary benefit will be cost savings. In one example, the Surface Combat Systems Center estimated that the cost to store a test configuration on hard drives was $473.19 per Gbyte, compared with $42.13 per Gbyte on a SAN.

Because of the complexity of the Navy's weapons-system software, software configurations are stored on anywhere from 50 to several hundred hard drives, which run about $42,000 each, including hardening for shipboard environments. The Navy also has had problems because the 2- and 9-Gbyte drives that it uses to store some weapons systems are no longer being made. "We have to keep a master copy of each ship's weapons system so they can be replicated at the Surface Combat Systems Center," Martin says. "We were running out of physical space to store this media and the ability to buy it."

Martin envisions a day when the Navy uses SANs to connect data across its facilities and ships at sea. "With a SAN, you can mirror and provide disaster-recovery protection," he says. "The technology is no different than [what] a business would use to manage its files, except this data is used to ensure national security. We verify each and every bit via encryption."

Such a network also would save the Navy money on the cost of delivering new weapons systems to ships. NavseaDD estimates that it costs $85,000 to deliver a software system to a ship, with most of that used to pay the salaries and travel expenses of software-installation experts as well as the shipping of equipment to perform the installation. The use of a Fibre Channel network to deliver software upgrades from shores to ships could cut that cost by as much as $75,000 per delivery.

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