In today’s fast-paced digital world, we must be more flexible than ever as we adapt to the ever-changing needs of IT infrastructures and data centers supporting the armed forces. Because many of my family members are veterans, I’ve always had a great deal of respect for the men and women serving our country. That said, there was nothing that could prepare me to work alongside our U.S. troops in parts of the world that don’t necessarily like our country’s values, to put it gently. When you work in a military environment you quickly become accustomed to a dynamic environment. At times, missions or tasks can seem impossible to accomplish. Yet, when orders are given, the phrases “No Sir” and “No Ma’am” are rarely uttered.
I worked in a region with many remote locations and the various missions required standing up Technical Control Facilities (TCF) very rapidly. These TCFs were intended to be short-term solutions to provide network communications for troops. Nonetheless, Army leadership ultimately recognized a steady creep in the cost to maintain these siloed facilities. The cost included power, HVAC, out-of-warranty equipment and more. Plus, service outages and end-user experience began to be an ugly norm.
As a result, the Colonel told our team to reduce the footprint of these data centers. We were ordered to provide a secure, dynamic, and scalable solution that would support the mission’s goals and our nation’s warfighters.
Major General Bruce Crawford delivered a similar message to military, government, and industry officials at AFCEA’s TechNet conference a few months ago in Augusta, Georgia. He said, “The Army needs a better network to support future combat operations,” and explained how critical the Army’s network is to warfighters in the field and on bases. Together, he said, “they transform into a force multiplier that allows us to fully leverage and employ the Army’s network as a weapon system.”
In my team’s case, we knew a converged solution would fit the bill for the Colonel. Several solutions were researched — even hyper-converged technologies — but FlexPod just seemed to be the right fit. We engineered and implemented a hub and spoke design, outfitting small sites with the FlexPod Express design and the FlexPod data center design at large sites.
We reduced five racks of switches, servers and storage down to one and a half racks in large facilities and a half-a-rack in smaller facilities. The Cisco UCS C220 M4 1RU form factor servers came outfitted with Cisco’s Virtual Interface Card (VIC) 1227. The VIC 1227 supported 10 Gbps, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) and a modular LAN on motherboard (mLOM) adapter. The Cisco VIC card allowed data and LOM traffic to run over the same cable. This enabled us to reduce server cable count from four CAT5 cables per server down to two direct attach optical SFP+ cables. The Cisco UCS C220M4 server housed 512GB of memory replacing Dell r710 servers with 128GB of memory.
Storage is critical in all environments and no IT professional wants to explain to a Colonel why they can’t access data. With NetApp as our storage solution, we were confident that data protection and accessibility were covered. The NetApp FAS8040 controller provided beyond the required IOPS for heavy read and writes while FAS2554 controllers supported the workloads of smaller sites — physical equipment space was decreased and user functionality had been optimized!
FlexPod provided flexibility at each layer: Storage, Compute and Networking. Each layer makes the FlexPod solution very resilient. NetApp’s high-availability technology, Cisco server hardware abstraction and Cisco Nexus vPC technology combine to ensure systems are accessible.
Information technology is a very rewarding career; however, this project gave me a unique sense of gratification. It’s impactful to understand your work supports the mission of those who ultimately support our country. As Zangardi has said, “We are looking at ways of delivering capability because that is important, it saves money. But it also gives the sailor, soldier, airman and marine a better experience.”