How the Australian Defense Forces Consolidated Their IT Infrastructure

Running a military takes a whole lot of IT planning.

Under normal circumstances, shifting to cloud-hosted applications would lead to installing more data-center infrastructure in a handful of centralized locations. Not so with Australia’s Department of Defence, which is consolidating numerous “computer rooms” around the country into a collection of data-centers—because when you need to survive a potential attack, putting all your eggs (or servers) in one basket doesn’t exactly make sense.

Daniel McCabe, assistant secretary of infrastructure architecture for Australia’s Department of Defence, recently told an Australian data-center conference hosted by about his agency’s recent consolidation plans.

“Coming into my role in 2010, my challenge was to consolidate 280 computer rooms around Australia down to 10 or less while simultaneously planning 100,000 virtual desktops across the organization,” he said. “Defence’s ICT infrastructure had reached the point where major investment was necessary to maintain the level of service for a modern defense organization. The cost seemed prohibitive, but to continue on a course of incremental issue-solving would have meant a gradual degradation of our ICT capability.”

The goal of what’s known as the Centralized Processing Project is to save $20 billion in Australian dollars (i.e., $20.7 billion U.S.) over ten years, while establishing a single, integrated capability for data-center provision and management. The Australian government needs infrastructure and services at multiple security-domain levels (classified, restricted, and secret) at ten data centers within the country, plus three more internationally. The shortlist of vendors to facilitate this process includes three vendors: Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Lockheed Martin.

“We did consider building three large data centers to consolidate all of Defence’s domestic workloads,” McCabe said, “but after consulting, we concluded that this might be a leap too far. We’ve now settled on reusing nine of our existing facilities, and leasing one new facility.” That allowed Defence to extend the geographical reach of its data-center network as well as survivability—an obvious issue where national defense is concerned.

The Sydney data center will consist of 1,370 square meters (14,746 square feet) of usable compute space, running on 2.2 megawatts of power. Cabling will include 61 km of power cabling, 39 km of Cat6A copper, and 660 km of OM4 cabling. Inside, the IT and financial networks will be logically separated, McCabe said, also using different cabling. Physically separate management networks will provide out-of-band management to all networks in the facility.

The infrastructure will use a modular approach, with dedicated servers, storage, and switch equipment, designed to support densities of up to 10,000 users, added. The so-called Next Generation Desktop will run a combination of Windows 7, Office 2010, and a variety of other applications.

In November 2012, Defence migrated the 17 largest applications, including HR, finance, and logistics supply systems. With some overlap between platforms, there was no assurance that the move would go as planned. Over 200 employees were called on to facilitate the weekend-long transition, overseen by Accenture. McCabe also said he learned shortly before the move that a significant redeployment of troops would take place at the same time, meaning that Defence had to reprioritize the redeployment of the logistics supply package on the fly.

Defence also took the opportunity to upgrade the Sydney-Melbourne replication link to 10 Gbits/s, and established new backup storage facilities in Melbourne, McCabe said. Migrating the data also had another benefit, as the lessons learned helped reduce disaster recovery times from 36 hours to about fourteen. The project is reportedly set to wrap up next month.

“The project proved very successful. It had minimal disruptions to our business, and has been well received by a number of business areas with significant improvement to applications because of new up-specc’ed equipment and the new data center,” McCabe said.


Image: Egasit Mullakhut/