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Defense IT: Past lessons, future evolution

Apr. 8, 2014 - 05:23PM   |  
By ANTHONY ROBBINS   |   Comments
Anthony Robbins is vice president of federal for Brocade.
Anthony Robbins is vice president of federal for Brocade. (File)
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As we come to the halfway point in the fiscal year, it is a great time for the defense IT community to carefully reflect on the past six months to help inform IT decisions for the rest of the fiscal year. Efforts from the past, such as data center consolidation, and present challenges like big data, teach us how we can improve and learn. Emerging technologies will continue to chart a course for network modernization to help save more than $5 billion over the next 5 years.

Lessons of the Past: Implementing and executing data center consolidation

Data center consolidation within government and defense has been an ongoing priority since the introduction of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative in 2010. The Department of Defense took further action in late 2011, introducing its IT Enterprise Strategy and Roadmap. The strategy focused on aggressively consolidating DoD IT infrastructure from the time of the document’s release to FY 2015.

Across the entire federal government, fewer than 1,000 data centers have been closed out of more than 7,000 identified facilities. The DoD is a leader in the space, responsible for 114 of the 382 centers closed between 2010 and the end of 2012, but there is room to improve.To meet commercial best practices, all federal and defense agencies should aim to close a total of 500 data centers.

While government is faced with many IT priorities, consolidation must be at the top of its list, and network modernization is key to achieving consolidation. As the amount of data available to the DoD continues to increase, every department will need to move away from traditional network infrastructure to flatter, more resilient network architectures. Numerous studies have shown that government agencies can save billions of dollars each year through modernization. Data center fabrics can reduce power, space requirements and complexity in the data center, allowing the DoD to achieve consolidation goals and realize significant cost savings.

Managing the Present: Facing the challenges of Big Data

How DoD adapts to the challenges of unstructured data today will determine the value this information provides in the future. We conducted a survey of federal government employees earlier this year that found 65 percent of the respondents found it difficult to process unstructured data, limiting the use of this information. An even greater number of respondents (82 percent) indicated that the volume of data on their networks was also a challenge. These problems are often a result of networks being unprepared for big data, illustrating a clear need for network modernization.

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Insights from big data enable better informed decision-making, but the ability to do data analysis depends on the network’s ability to scale and manage. Modern network options like Ethernet fabrics are designed for virtualized environments and improved data management. Software Defined Networking (SDN), a new approach emerging in both the public and private sector, also promises to help manage greater, more diverse quantities of data.

Influencing the Future: The software-defined network redefines IT infrastructure

The future of networking is SDN. Gartner lists Software Defined Anything (SDx) as a key strategic technology for 2014 and IDC predicts the market to grow to $3.7 billion by 2016. The DoD operates the world’s largest and most complex network, so moving to the most innovative network environment should be prioritized. An additional benefit of SDN is that it can lower costs, potentially cutting as much as 7.5 percent from IT budgets and making the approach a smart option in preparation for uncertain budgetary environments in the years to come.

Adoption of SDN will be gradual, but we expect to see choices that facilitate an SDN-supportive IT infrastructure made this year. It is critical that the DoD make decisions that encourage open standards to gain the full benefit of SDN on IT infrastructure. While open standards can make SDN adoption easier today, open standards will encourage competition and allow the DoD to take advantage of the latest and greatest technologies in the future. According to Gartner, open standards could offer the added benefit of saving agencies 15 to 25 percent on network total cost of ownership.

Capitalizing on lessons from its IT past, the DoD can take a look at where it has come from and where it is going to make intelligent technology decisions for years to come.

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