IBM Wins First Cloud Deal as Army Fast-Tracks Data Center Closures

Unclear whether next Army secretary will make IT modernization as big a priority

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

January 25, 2017

3 Min Read
IBM Wins First Cloud Deal as Army Fast-Tracks Data Center Closures
A member of the U.S. Army Band salutes U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (standing at top of steps) during an honor cordon ceremony at the Pentagon, March 23, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The US Army has contracted IBM to set up and run the first of several private cloud environments expected eventually to host most of its applications. Announcement of the deal comes shortly after former Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, issued a memo directing the Army to fast-track the process of eliminating unnecessary applications and systems and shutting down as many data centers as possible.

The US government as a whole is very likely to be the world’s largest data center operator (a total of 11,700 data centers according to a recent estimate), and Department of Defense, which includes the Army, is one of the largest data center operators within the government. Needless to say, the government spends an enormous amount of money to maintain this sprawling infrastructure every year, and efforts to rationalize and consolidate it have been ongoing for years.

Read more: White House Orders Federal Data Center Construction Freeze

It’s unclear whether the next Army secretary will make those efforts as big a priority, but President Donald Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner has voiced support for government IT modernization, referring to it as “mission critical” in an email to Barack Obama’s tech advisor and former US CTO Todd Park.

Trump’s secretary of the Army appointee, Vincent Viola, an Army veteran and billionaire owner of the NHL team Florida Panthers, has yet to be confirmed.

The Army’s fiscal 2015 IT bill was $8.3 billion, including everything from data centers to applications, in-house and outsourced. “Many of these systems and applications are necessary for efficient operations,” Fanning’s memo read. “Many are not.” Besides just the cost of unnecessary apps, every system and application represents a potential attack surface for hackers.

Despite several directives from the White House, the Department of Defense, and senior leadership of the Army itself to rationalize IT and consolidate data centers, progress has been slow. In fact, the Army’s data center consolidation and closure efforts have come to what the memo characterized as a “virtual standstill.”

Now, the Army’s long-term target is four data centers total in the continental US and six outside. One of them will house the private cloud built by IBM. The company plans to compete for contracts to build and manage private clouds in the three future locations as well.

If the Army exercises all options on the current five-year contract with IBM, it will be worth $62 million.

IBM will stand up the cloud environment within an existing Army data center -- located at the Army’s Redstone Arsenal, near Huntsville, Alabama -- and act as a managed service provider to the department, James Norcross, defense and intelligence VP for IBM US Federal, said in interview with Data Center Knowledge. The hardware will be a mix of IBM and non-IBM products, and the architecture will include OpenStack.

The initial plan is to move three to eight applications into the cloud, expected to go live in the spring, and continue from there. “This is the tip of the spear,” Norcross said.

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