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Program to improve IT core services achieves key milestone

Tech. Sgt. Ryan Barkman, 611th Air Communications Squadron, performs a systems check on a rack-mounted server, June 8. Barkman won the Air Force Cyber Warrior of the Year Award for fiscal year 2010. (Courtesy photo)

Tech. Sgt. Ryan Barkman, 611th Air Communications Squadron, performs a systems check on a rack-mounted server at Joint Base-Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, in a file photo. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Cyber Infrastructure Division at Hanscom AFB, Mass., has been working to consolidate four data processing centers into one area processing center to improve reliability of core services and reduce costs. (U.S. Air Force photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- An Air Force program that will save money, save energy and improve core information technology services, such as email, has recently met a significant milestone.

Hardware to consolidate four regional data processing centers into one area processing center has been delivered, installed and tested at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

More than half of the Air Force Materiel Command information technology equipment housed at Wright-Patterson as well as at Tinker AFB, Okla., Hill AFB, Utah, Robins AFB, Ga. and other remote processing centers is past end of life, according to Laura Ervin-Cook, program manager.

"This increases the risk of catastrophic failure for critical mission support infrastructure and has resulted in an increase in the frequency and duration of service outages, which directly affect the Air Force mission," she said. "In 2011, the Air Force Chief Information Officer said his number one cyber priority was the AFNet migration and he wanted it completed by the end of 2012."

Another issue is that information being routed currently would often have multiple routings - for example from Hanscom, to Robins, to Wright-Patterson. Now it will be only one in and one out, which will help solve the latency and failure rates.

In addition to technical challenges, the cost of maintaining services hosted at multiple locations is considerable. Wright-Patterson was chosen as the site of the area processing center because their current regional data center was already processing data for 37,000 Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet) users locally. The change will consolidate the servers at Wright-Patterson, increase potential users to 190,000 and allow the regional processing centers at Robins, Tinker and Hill to be decommissioned.

"It also will allow a better success rate if information needs to be recovered," said Ervin-Cook.

The financial savings from the consolidation is in direct compliance with the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative and also connects to the need of the Department of Defense to find IT efficiencies, endorsed by the DoD chief information officer.

A small select team from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Cyber Infrastructure Division here at Hanscom put out three requests for information beginning in September 2011 and had multiple interactions with industry to pursue the latest technology and leverage data center design best practices. The market research ensured they could develop a solid technical requirements document.

In February 2012, the team put out a request for quotation and had a strong response from multiple vendors. The vendors said they were impressed with the clarity of the RFQ.

The team narrowed the responses down to ensure they could get the best solution and when they looked at the technical responses they realized they could acquire what was considered the "Cadillac" data center solution, said Ervin-Cook.

By April, a contract was in place. The installation, training and testing was completed in July.

The 83rd Network Operations Squadron (NOS) Detachment 3 at Wright-Patterson was able to assist, and working with the team and the contractor, they received training on the new hardware and are now ready to assume "touch maintenance" when the equipment is fully operational.

"The teams all worked together great, and we had strong leadership support, which allowed this to rapidly progress," said Ervin-Cook.

The new area processing center will be state-of-the-art and leverage virtualization.

"It will reduce the number of servers providing a smaller footprint, and also improve storage and the speed of transferring data," said Ervin-Cook. "We are looking at a 50 percent energy and power use reduction."

Having the team from the Cyber Integration Division become the "owner" of the center allows for standard configuration control, asset management and data management.

"Now all the data, the licensing, the hardware and software will be controlled and managed for the Wright Patterson APC," she said.

From here, the team is waiting for the Air Force Network Integration Center to do core service migration into the AFNet and then operational and acceptance testing will be conducted. Once that is complete, the system will be at full operational capability which should occur within the next year.

"This is a true success story, "said Ervin-Cook. "For the standard user, hopefully all the changes will be seamless and the only difference they will see is in an improvement in their core services," she said.

For the future, the team is looking to migrate Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet) users and establish a GIG Entry Point to support disadvantaged mobile and airborne users.