Entering the 21st Century
..........With all the talk of
homeland security, it's not surprising monies are being spent to improve the
processes surrounding the management of soldiers' information. The U.S. Army is
well on its way to the "biggest technological rollout in decades,"
according to Jim Riggs, Project Manager with the Army PERMS Project.
PERMS (Personnel Electronic Record Management System) Project's mission is to
provide a secure, non-volatile computer storage system for military personnel
records with quick, reliable access to those records for the Active, Reserve,
and National Guard components of the U.S. Army. Basically, its aim is to turn a
microfiche/paper-rich, personnel-intensive environment into a paperless,
Web-based, computer-automated environment.
The PERMS project is not new. The task of moving personnel records
to electronic format began back in 1989. At that time, a custom system was
developed and was implemented on a limited scope. Today, PERMS maintains four
locations including the U.S. Army Reserve Personnel Command (St. Louis,
Missouri), U.S. Army Enlisted Records and Evaluation Center (Indianapolis,
Indiana), U.S. Total Army Personnel Command (Alexandria, Virginia), and the Army
National Guard Readiness Center (Arlington, Virginia).
records management system is currently supporting a user base of 400 to 600
people, with 1.25 million active records, 54.7 million total documents, and
146.9 million total images, stored on 11.9 terabytes of NAS (network-attached
storage) and RAID (Redundant arrays of independent disk) storage. The goal is to
eventually provide these services to a user base of 1.2 million soldiers located
anywhere and at anytime.
The importance of personnel records
..........Designing and implementing
a system to manage personnel records may be one of the most vital projects in
retaining qualified personnel. The accuracy of records is paramount in advancing
careers. For example, selection boards, which determine advancement of rank and
which often have no personal relationship with Army personnel they are making
decisions about, use these documents to determine if the soldier in question
meets the qualifications for the next level. Obviously, mistakes or inaccuracies
in these documents can have a huge impact on careers, which in turn, severely
affect morale. For the professional army being deployed today, these records are
the foundation of the Army's ability to develop and maintain an excellent force.
Mike Jude, Research Director at Enterprise Management Associates and
former Captain in the Army notes that morale isn't the only thing affected by
incorrect personnel documents. The cost of "doing business"
is increased as well. When Jude was stationed in Europe, one of his fellow
officers found inaccuracies in his files. The problem only became apparent when
this officer was "passed over" for promotion to Major, a career land
mine with no hope of further promotion, because of missing documents in his
permanent records. The closest personnel office was located in Germany at that
time, and the records in question were only maintained in official form in St.
Louis, Missouri. The Army paid this officer to fly to St. Louis from Germany
with paper copies of his records, and spend over three weeks of his (and the
Army's) time, correcting the problem. These issues cost the Army not only the
price of the flight and the officer's time for that period but took an excellent
officer out of commission at the same time. Fortunately, the story has a happy
ending: the officer was ultimately promoted.
Which solution to choose?
..........To alleviate the time and
costs associated with tracking the records of 1.2 million army personnel located
all over the world, the PERMS project desires to extend the scope of records
kept electronically to include all branches of the Army, as well as update the
technology from their 1989 implementation. A prime example of this is the
proof-of-concept and design implementation by the Army National Guard and
subcontractor, SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) being
performed at the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Technology
SAIC, a large systems integration company with projects ongoing with
the U.S. Department of Defense, including the Army National Guard's portion of
the PERMS initiative, was tasked over a year ago, to design and prototype a
scalable document and image management system using primarily off-the-self
components. Due to the advancements in storage technology over the past several
years, there was the need to evaluate whether SAN or NAS technologies would
best fit their requirements. Daniel Klute, Technical Lead heading up the effort
for SAIC, described it best as "a way we can test our assumptions against
the requirements and the modularity of the solution in an impartial environment."
The environment they chose was the SNIA Technology Center.
"The SNIA Lab provides a somewhat isolated, secure facility/lab
for our engineers to focus on the work," said Klute, "and enables
access to vendor engineers." The ability to go into significant technical
depth with engineers knowledgeable on each of the storage subsystems proved
essential in cutting through the "fantasy of sales" claimed Klute. The
fact that the SNIA Technology Center provides a comprehensive infrastructure and
support has allowed the engineers to keep their momentum going throughout the
Both SAIC and the Army expect to develop a significant level of trust
with the solution through the proof-of-concept tests. Jim Riggs, project manager
for the Army on the PERMS project states, "seventy-five to eighty percent
of these solutions are putting together systems just out-of-the-box. However,
the final 15% can take many years to implement. In performing the
proof-of-concept, the Army reduces its risk on the back end and is able to bring
solutions to market more quickly, saving millions of dollars." These are
the bottom-line benefits the Army seeks in doing these tests.
Finally, the vendors who participated found the Technology Center
beneficial as well. They were able to send engineers to both configure their
storage for maximum performance during the tests, and to receive important
feedback from SAIC about the subsystem functionality with regard to the test
requirements. This comprehensive customer information came in a secure
environment where competitors would not know the details of the feedback.
...A year later in retrospect
..........On November 14th, 2002, a
year after the beginning of the proof-of-concept testing, the prototype
demonstration occurred. After performing a series of grueling tests using both
SAN and NAS storage solutions, SAIC and the Army decided that a NAS-based
solution best fit their requirements. When asked about their satisfaction with
the SNIA Technology Center during the past year, both Riggs and Klute provided
glowing recommendations. "We have developed a wonderful relationship with
the Tech Center Staff," said Klute. "We [SAIC] will use the lab again
for other projects."
The Army is so pleased with the results that they have decided to
contract with the SNIA Technology Center for another year, rather than move the
operations as outlined in the original plan. "We will take the prototype to
the next step here at the Tech Center before deploying it in 2003," Riggs
For integrators, customers, and even vendors, the SNIA Technology
Center provides an ideal location for vendor-neutral, proof-of-concept testing
to reduce the risks associated with implementing new solutions. The SNIA
Technology Center, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, occupies a total of
14,000 square feet, with 3,000 sq. ft. dedicated to classrooms and meeting
rooms, with the rest of the Center as lab space.
For more information
a contact Thomas Conroy, Director of the SNIA Technology Center, at (719)
...SNIA Technology Center