Information storage dilemma draws attention of planners.
Although it is not as glamorous as smart weapons or miniaturized sensors, data storage is emerging as an increasingly important issue in the U.S. military. As the services continue to move toward a networked force, U.S. Defense Department leaders are beginning to pay close attention to how and where to store the data and images that sophisticated technologies are gathering in enormous quantities. After all, it not only has to be kept somewhere, but it also must be readily accessible to be valuable.
Data storage is a complicated subject. It touches upon the issues of interoperability and information assurance. In addition, although several de facto standards exist, a single standard has not yet been established. Agencies throughout the government recognize that they must determine how to store the information they have and continue to collect, and be sure that as storage technologies mature this data can be moved to newer devices.
According to Defense Department officials, one of the key elements in their planning process is to determine the benefits that stored data can deliver. While companies have already discovered that the insights that stored data provide increase their bottom line, the military has yet to ascertain and explain exactly how stored data can serve the forces. This assessment is the first step toward taking data storage into the limelight, they say. However, designing the metrics that can measure the benefits is a quandary in itself.
John J. Garstka, chief technology officer, Joint Staff Directorate for Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems, says that because information is the lifeblood of e-commerce, commercial companies have put all of the data in one place so they can exploit it. The defense sector is just beginning to make this move. The military is examining available data storage products to determine the role they will play in the global information grid as well as other networked systems, he says.
“The linkage [of data storage] to network-centric warfare is indirect. We have to network the force first and do it right. But, if you haven’t figured out a way to back up your data, then you won’t do it right the first time,” Garstka explains.
Data storage is one component of network-centric warfare, but it is a concept that is still maturing and involves many facets of both technology and doctrine. Military leaders of most nations recognize that in the information age, information is a powerful weapon. But once all of the intelligence has been gathered, once the reports have been filed and the collaboration taken place, the bits and bytes must be saved in a secure place. Therefore, data storage must be viewed as an important part in the information assurance arsenal as well.
Industry has taken the lead in this arena because e-commerce made it a necessity, Garstka offers. In the past, when companies took telephone orders during regular business hours, sales personnel only needed access to information during designated times, and databases could be backed up during off hours. With the advent of online purchasing, information has to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the opportunity to back up data during nonbusiness hours disappears. In addition, e-commerce requires that personnel in various locations have access to the data regardless of their location.
These circumstances are similar to what is taking place today as the military moves toward a networked force. As the services, which have been platform-centric in the past, move toward working in an information-centric environment, data storage will become a larger concern, Garstka says. “America Online [AOL] is a good example. They distribute the way they handle e-mail to different servers. So, if one goes down you don’t lose access to all of your e-mail, just a part of it. In the future, we [the military] may be as sophisticated as AOL,” he offers.
The issue is larger than just storing the data, Garstka suggests. The real discriminator in currently available data storage products is the software that allows easy access as well as manages and protects the information.
EMC Corporation, Hopkinton, Massachusetts, specializes in data storage technologies and the software that facilitates information sharing. The company is a recognized leader in the field, and its philosophy reaches beyond developing the latest product. Rather than only focusing on the research and development of specific products, the firm’s officials are taking a step back and assessing the powerful effect an information-centric environment can have on achieving results, both commercial and military.
Jeffrey L. Hornberger, senior systems engineer at EMC’s Bethesda, Maryland, office, has delved deeply into the role information storage can play in network-centric warfare. “There has been a lot of stovepiping of information in the [military] organization. In a platform-centric world, since the platform is the ultimate end piece, all systems were developed around the platform. Applications that were new were developed in and of themselves. There was software created for each platform, but you couldn’t interchange it, and that was a problem. The center of the world was the application and the platform and not the data that was stored on it. [On the other hand], network-centric warfare dictates that information is the center of the universe. The basic capabilities that you want to develop should support this idea,” Hornberger contends.
The explosion in the amount of data available from both restricted sources, such as the intelligence community, and open sources, such as the Internet, complicates the storage issue. “Stovepipes worked relatively well when we didn’t have ubiquitous access to data. But now the Internet has changed that dramatically. The way we use data and the way we combine it has dramatically changed the way we do things today,” he says.
“Information technology has five plus two components. We have applications, processors, networks, databases and storage, and then we have what people don’t talk about—which are the people element and the information element. There is a need for strategic technology, and data storage is one of the cornerstones because the data storage element doesn’t care what the data is. The network component is the same way. If we standardize the way we store the data, the interim step is handled by the tactical applications and the tactical processors, and those should be unburdened of the data logistics problem,” Hornberger proposes.
Among EMC’s offerings that address this issue is a suite of products called Enterprise Storage and Enterprise Storage Networks. “Warfighting information from all sources can be stored together, managed consistently and securely made available throughout the command structure from a single technological platform. This has never occurred before, and the Defense Department is just now learning how to take advantage of this new capability,” Hornberger says.
Several essential requirements for the global information grid and network-centric warfare differentiate Enterprise Storage from conventional, server-centric storage. The approach supports enterprise connectivity, which means that users can concurrently connect to and store and retrieve data from all major computing platforms.
Because the information throughout the enterprise is consolidated into one central location, military units are working in an information-centric environment so they can leverage the data to achieve operational and mission goals rather than spend time and energy managing technology assets.
“In network-centric warfare, if the military has an enterprise information storage capability, it can reduce the number of required personnel to handle the data. Also, if the data is in a central location, it can be made available to more people in the right format and at the right time. So, the implications in a coalition or joint operation are pretty substantial,” Hornberger offers.
Quick access to information could reduce the duration of an operation, saving both time and money, he proposes. Hornberger agrees with Garstka that a need exists for metrics to measure the impact effective data storage can have on missions. “The measure of effectiveness and metrics has met with a lot of pushback from the military because it is so hard to do. The highest levels at the Defense Department understand and are aware of what needs to be done and what is changing and what the future is. Unfortunately, when we talk about the lower levels, where the rubber meets the road, where the acquisition is being done, the change is taking place, but it is going on slowly,” Hornberger says.
This pace may increase, Garstka says, because the economics of data storage are changing. As devices become more affordable and the software to access information improves, the military can consider employing technologies it did not focus on in the past.
One factor contributing to this economic shift is the growing number of companies that are entering the information storage marketplace. Although EMC is still considered a market leader in this arena, other firms are beginning to recognize the financial opportunities in these technologies, which today are estimated to be a $40 billion a year industry.
Sun Microsystems Incorporated, Palo Alto, California, recently entered this marketplace with a network of servers, peripherals, wireless devices, desktop units and appliances that support open, standard interfaces that allow access to stored data.
Ed Zander, president and chief operating officer of Sun, recognizes that the company’s traditional clients are searching for new ways to store and share information, and the company is meeting the challenge and taking advantage of the opportunity. “As everything with a digital heartbeat connects to the Internet, and data explodes from text to graphics, audio and video, our customers are clamoring for a more modern, open and networked-based solution. Monolithic, mainframe-like architectures for storage will not be able to keep pace with the net. Today, Sun is taking this immense opportunity head-on with our StorEdge family of products and services,” he says.
It is not only the large technology companies that see the financial opportunities data storage devices present. Financial analysts predict that Network Appliance Incorporated, Sunnyvale, California, a company that specializes in data storage, is likely to threaten EMC’s hold on the market. However, they add that the growing demand for data storage alternatives will allow many companies to thrive.
While industry jockeys for the lead in data storage solutions, military leaders continue to chant some familiar refrains—interoperability and information assurance. Although discussions about network-centric warfare have been taking place for several years, the focus has been on how to best network the forces, the doctrinal implications in command and control, and the advantage networked communications bring to a mission. More specific technical concerns such as interoperability are one layer down from this broader view.
Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski, USN, president of the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, believes that while the data storage issue has not received a lot of front-office attention, the interoperability of any technologies adopted is an issue that must be addressed.
“The importance [of data storage] in the area of network-centric warfare is interoperability, because if you’re not interoperable then you’re not on the net. And if you’re not on the net, then you’re not in the information age,” Adm. Cebrowski says. Archiving information is not a new problem; however, what is new is the pace of change in storage media and techniques, and that aggravates the problem, he adds.
Another issue that must be addressed, the admiral says, is security for data at rest. “Is there a problem? Yes, because if you’re trying to protect your information, you frequently protect that information in transit. We’re moving to a time when people could have access to the information you’ve collected. There is a need to create some cryptography that protects the information but allows a commander to get access to it immediately,” he offers.
Each service is currently moving toward networking more information, and the joint community also is addressing the importance of ensuring that the information can be shared. However, Hornberger believes the data storage element, while not being ignored, certainly could use more attention.
“Commanders have great latitude as to what they will have at their fingertips, and that’s where data storage is really a question. In the doctrine and knowledge management world, we’re just scratching the surface. Think tanks are working on it, but it’s slow. The commercial world is very nimble at working on these types of issues. They can afford to be faster, but the government has to be faster, too,” Hornberger concludes.
Congress Seeks Comprehensive Technology Report
The U.S. Defense Department is not the only entity that recognizes the military’s increasing dependence on information. Although Congress has been well aware of budget requests that weigh heavily in the technology department, it has allowed the department to work somewhat independently—until now.
The Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2001 requires the Secretary of Defense to prepare and deliver a report that describes where all of these programs are going in the grand scheme of national defense. The report is due to the defense and appropriations committees by the first of next month.
According to Col. Charles W. Alsup, USA (Ret.), professional staff member, Senate Armed Services Committee, the report should include the department’s efforts to define network-centric warfare and a list of requirements to ensure that decisions being made today will have the services all going down the same path. In its oversight role, Congress is proactively seeking assurance that some measure of interoperability and compatibility is being applied as the services adopt new systems, including data storage devices, he explains.
The report must also include information about the science and technology programs that support network-centric warfare as well as the current and future use of the department’s joint experimentation program in developing such concepts.
The committee will review the report to determine whether there are any inconsistencies in the approaches the services are pursuing. In the extreme, this examination could result in further questions about how particular programs were chosen. Ultimately, programs that do not appear to support the overall scheme of the Defense Department’s use of technology could be stopped and funding eliminated, Col. Alsup says.
Because technology development has been moving at such a fast pace and the various services have been exploring different approaches and systems, the committee is seeking one comprehensive report that describes how all of the various pieces will fit together, the colonel explains.