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Case study: When the U.S. Army decided to evaluate the pros and cons of SANs vs. NAS, it headed for the SNIA Tech Center in Colorado Springs.

January 28, 2003.................... Article by SNIA

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Military STORAGE, Test equipment, SAN, iSCSI, Backup software, Industry trade associations, articles, news
Editor's intro Testing network storage systems is the only reliable way to cut through the "fantasy of sales". But such facilities are expensive to set up and resource. This article shows how one integrator, SAIC, and one customer, the US Army, used a commercially off the shelf available facility provided by the SNIA.

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Entering the 21st Century

ith 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.

The 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).

Together, the 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 Center.

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 engagement.

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 added.

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) 884-8902. ...SAIC profile, ...SNIA profile, ...SNIA Technology Center

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