Smaller footprint for Navy data centers will bring big savings

Service plans to shutter many centers while improving performance and cutting costs.

Rob Wolborsky is the chief technology officer of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). Last year, he was appointed director of the Navy data center consolidation task force. Wolborsky, who joined SPAWAR in 1996 as a commercial satellite communications lead engineer, quickly put together a team that will help the Navy modernize its data centers, improving security and efficiency while closing nearly half of those facilities.

Defense Systems Contributing Editor Terry Costlow spoke with Wolborsky before a speech he gave at AFCEA West 2012 that addressed the Navy’s efforts to save money by closing data centers. Wolborsky discussed SPAWAR’s plans for data center consolidation and how enterprise architecture and manpower reductions influence that strategy.

DS: Could you give us an update on the goals you’re pursuing?

Wolborsky: Our initial focus is to understand what we have. We have a lot of information on our databases and a high-level understanding of our assets. But we don’t have a detailed, comprehensive understanding of what we have and what we’re running. We need to have a handle on this for our consolidation efforts to move forward.

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One reason we want to consolidate is that we’ll save money by being more efficient. We expect to see over $1.4 billion in cuts, so all resource sponsors have to be more efficient.

The second is that we have data all over the place in facilities that have varying levels of capability and security. We’d rather have it in fortresses where we can protect it. The data in these centers is critical to the Navy; we need to treat it as such.

A third is that we’ll have a more robust operation that can provide continuity of operation. We want to ensure that when there is a disaster, we can respond as necessary.

DS: How are you moving forward with plans to close inefficient facilities?

Wolborsky: We’ve put together 10 teams, all from SPAWAR, to go out to designated data centers. There are 120 data centers that support the Navy and Marines. The teams will go out to give us an understanding of what it costs to run the centers. We have done 30 assessments, seeing what’s there and what the costs are. In parallel, we’ll see what’s being done at three SPAWAR sites. For all these analyses, we’ve built cost models so we truly understand what we’re saving. 

This year, our target is to set up a metric for closing sites. We’re planning to close 58 of them. We’re looking at closing 18 to 22 sites this year, mostly the smaller ones. There are many of these small facilities. These sites have anywhere from five to 1,000 servers.

It’s hard to say what the total payoff will be. The savings over 58 sites could be hundreds of millions of dollars. There are a lot of other cost savings opportunities. We have a lot of applications that overlap, and we’ve got a lot of legacy network that can be retired without really curtailing our ability to perform efficiently.

DS: One issue that’s highlighted as a problem for these data centers is that they run as many as 20 different operating systems. Is there an effort to reduce the number of variants?

Wolborsky: We want as few operating environments as possible. We’re working with groups to help them consolidate on that front, too. There are standards that these operating entities can adopt. I’m not responsible for that aspect; I’m managing the transition to fewer data centers.

DS: There’s always going to be skepticism when the Defense Department talks about reducing manpower and facilities. In fact, some earlier data center consolidation efforts have yielded little. What’s been put into place to ensure that your efforts will bring real reductions?

Wolborsky: What’s different now, versus the past, is that now everybody is aligned with a move to an enterprise architecture. They know that IT has blossomed the past several years, and that we need to improve our continuity operations and disaster recovery plans.

The other thing is that VADM [Kendall] Card has given us resources to address the enterprise issue for the Navy. I’m resourced for this, which is something that wasn’t done in the past. We have funds to invest this year and next year. The motivation for these operating entities to work with us now is much higher. If they don’t work with us, they may find themselves on the list of facilities that will be cut.

Another things they didn’t have in the past was the ability to build a government IT workforce. I’m building a team within this task force.

We’re letting those with IT experience in the Navy run IT and letting other resource sponsors run their IT. We’re providing a significant amount of funding to support IT for each of the resource sponsors while we’re consolidating.

DS: What are the biggest obstacles you’re facing?

Wolborsky: Wow, that’s difficult. One of the biggest is the ability of my staff to ramp up fast enough. There are also risks and challenges in ramping up our staff. At all the sites, there will be dramatic manpower reductions. We have to staff up to support SPAWAR's three data centers and the enterprise. Overall, we will have way more people taken off the payroll than we’ll be adding.