Naval Weapons Software Testing Facilities To Link SANs

Move will speed testing and certification of new software that runs Navy weapons systems.

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

June 8, 2005

3 Min Read

The U.S. Navy wants to get new and upgraded weapons system software tested, approved, and deployed 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 securely move and store data on hard drives and optical disks was overtaxed. The solution last August was to replace existing storage gear with a Magnitude 3-D storage area network from Xiotech Corp. Now the Surface Combat Systems Center plans by October to take the next step by networking its SAN with Xiotech SANs implemented last year at the Naval Sea Systems Command. Navsea Dahlgren Division, as it's known, works with contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. to build the combat system computer programs that are tested at Wallops Island for final certification.

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 ten 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 get new and upgraded weapons-system software tested, approved, and deployed more quickly, a secondary benefit will be the cost savings associated with moving data digitally and storing it on aging platforms. The Surface Combat Systems Center estimated that, in one example, the cost to store a test configuration on hard drives was $473.19 per Gbyte, compared to $42.13 per Gbyte on a SAN.

Due to 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 has also been running into problems because the 2- and 9-Gbyte drives that they use to store some of its weapons systems are no longer in production. "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 naval facilities and ships at sea. "With a SAN, you can mirror and provide disaster-recovery protection," he says.

"The technology is no different than a business would manage its files, except this data is used to ensure national security," Martin says. "We verify each and every bit via encryption."

Such a network would also save the Navy money off the cost of delivering new weapons systems to ships. Navsea 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 shipping the necessary equipment to perform the installation. The use of a Fibre Channel network to deliver software upgrades from shore to ships could cut that cost by as much as $75,000 per delivery.

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