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IBM will build $62 million cloud data center for Army at Alabama base

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IBM will build, manage and operate a private cloud data center for the U.S. Army at Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal, the company says. The deal is worth $62 million to IBM. It is a pilot for the first of four private Army cloud centers that will consolidate hundreds of military data sites around the world. Sam Gordy, general manager of IBM’s U.S. Federal division and Tim Kleppinger, vice president and senior client partner of IBM U.S. Federal, discussed the deal and its implications in a Q&A with AL.com this week.

Q: Why is the Army moving to privately run cloud data centers?

Gordy: There are over 183 individual command and control systems (alone), some of them written in computer code back to the ’70s. Those systems aren’t talking to each other, the coding is aging, the people who know how to write the code are retiring, and there’s really the need to bring all that forward, to modernize and update it. Kleppinger: The reason that this is important is the Army has hundreds, blocks of hundreds of data centers across the globe, and this initiative is to really take data center consolidation seriously.

Q: Who will do this data migration and consolidating: IBM or the Army?

Kleppinger: The initial group of applications that have been selected, some of the work will be done by the organizations that actually run the data and some will be done by IBM…. The Army will be receiving applications … and I would suspect there will be four or six contractors (ultimately) selected.

Gordy: This is not something that’s proprietary. It’s really open architecture. That’s part of IBM’s perspective from a corporate perspective. (IBM says it is using “open stack” software to build the cloud center.)

Q: What kind of data will be going on to this cloud?

Kleppinger: Personnel, finance to some degree … logistics, support, just a lot of legacy applications. That is the whole purpose of the cloud: reduce the amount of data, reduce the amount of apps, reduce the number of centers.

Q: Why Redstone Arsenal?

Kleppinger: There is an existing data center (there) now that supports multiple customers across the Army. It has the space now to house this project. We are currently under contract with the Logistics Support Activity (at Redstone). Four years ago, IBM won that contract. (Kleppinger says IBM is currently saving the LOGSA $1 million a month from what it was previously paying.)

Q: Will there be any new jobs for Huntsville?

Gordy: Absolutely. No question about it. I don’t think we can give you specific numbers and this point, but the focus of the activity is in Huntsville.

Q: When I think of the cloud, I think of my banking records, purchasing records, etc. There have been a lot of security problems with data. What is a “cloud” of this kind to IBM, and how are you going to make it secure.

Gordy: Yes, in many cases, we as individual citizens use that cloud a lot for the simple activity of storage. That certainly is a component of the cloud. But as we mentioned with respect to this application migration and application modernization, that’s taking something that is stove-piped today and can’t talk to another application. We are bringing it into the modern era where you can really collaborate. You can shift data and information and knowledge across the applications. We’re not just building a cloud to keep storage; we’re building a cloud that is truly going to be able to transform how the Army operates.

When you move something to the cloud, there is that broad access component, and with that comes elevated responsibility with respect to security. The advantage of doing it in the cloud is you are able to, in a much better way, layer in the security applications on that cloud. We like to think of things not in the cloud as more secure, but it’s only as secure as the firewall that you put on it and the patching that you put on it and the monitoring that you have on those individual components. With all your data spread out across a myriad of clouds, each one of those is only as secure as the guy who patched it and the last guy who updated it.

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