U.S. Army leverages SNIA Tech Center

A case study shows that end users, integrators, and vendors can take advantage of SNIA facilities to reduce risk and costs in proof-of-concept testing. By Anne Skamarock

By Anne Skamarock

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 one.

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The PERMS Project is not new. The task of moving personnel records to electronic format began in 1989. At that time, a custom system was developed and was implemented on a limited basis. Today, PERMS maintains four locations, including the U.S. Army Reserve Personnel Command (St. Louis, MO), U.S. Army Enlisted Records and Evaluation Center (Indianapolis, IN), U.S. Total Army Personnel Command (Alexandria, VA), and the Army National Guard Readiness Center (Arlington, VA). Together, the records management system currently supports 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 11.9TB of network-attached storage (NAS) and RAID disk subsystems. The goal is to eventually provide services to a user base of 1.2 million soldiers.

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 is extending the scope of records kept electronically to include all branches of the Army, as well as updating 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, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), 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 a need to evaluate whether NAS or storage area network (SAN) technology would best fit their requirements.

Daniel Klute, the technical lead heading up the effort for SAIC, describes the project as "a way we can test our assumptions against the requirements and the modularity of the solution in an impartial environment."

"The SNIA Lab provides an isolated, secure lab facility for our engineers and enables access to the vendors' engineers," says Klute. 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," according to Klute. The fact that the SNIA Technology Center provides a comprehensive infrastructure and support services has allowed the engineers to maintain momentum throughout the engagement.

Both SAIC and the Army expect to develop a significant level of trust in the solution through proof-of-concept tests. Riggs says that "about 75% to 80% of these solutions are out-of-the-box, but the other 15% or so can take many years to implement. In performing the proof-of-concept testing, the Army reduces its risk and is able to bring solutions to market more quickly, saving millions of dollars."

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 in regard to the test requirements.

About a year after the proof-of-concept testing began, 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.

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 originally planned.

For integrators, end users, and vendors, the SNIA Technology Center can provide a facility for vendor-neutral, proof-of-concept testing to reduce the risks associated with implementing new solutions.

The SNIA Technology Center, located in Colorado Springs, CO, occupies a total of 14,000 square feet, with 3,000 sq. ft. dedicated to classrooms and meeting rooms and the rest of the Center as lab space.

For more information about the SNIA Technology Center, visit www.snia.org/tech_center or contact Thomas Conroy, director of the SNIA Technology Center, at (719) 884-8902.

Anne Skamarock is a senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates (www.enterprisemanagement.com) in Boulder, CO.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2003