MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia — The Marine Corps has opened the door to an information technology solution that saves money, energy and space. Between November 2016 and January 2017, Marine Corps Systems Command installed a Hyper-Converged Infrastructure system at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Camp Pendleton, California, to virtualize the Organizational Messaging Service.
Best known by Marines as the Automated Message Handling System, OMS is used by commands to communicate administrative and operational messages between and within organizations. OMS is the first program in the Corps to employ hyper-converged technology, which combines the functions of several larger pieces of equipment into a single device called a “block” that is about the size of a video game console.
“HCI is a virtualization solution that includes both hardware and software elements,” said Collette Randall, project manager for OMS in MCSC’s Information Systems and Infrastructure.
Prior to implementing HCI, OMS was run by a system that included 12 physical servers, two storage switches and a storage area network device. Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton each had two of these systems — one for classified and another for unclassified information. A single system occupied 6-1/2 feet of space in the data center and required technical support from three separate vendors.
HCI replaces traditional servers, and combines storage and compute functions into a single machine. A single HCI system occupies about 10 inches of space.
“Implementing HCI resulted in an 85 percent space reduction at each location,” said Andy Collison, an AMHS support engineer who supports OMS. “We also went from working with three separate vendors to just one.”
The HCI platform yields other tangible benefits for the Marine Corps. The reduction in footprint alone resulted in an 81 percent decrease in the power consumption and 74 percent decrease in air conditioning required to run and cool the system. HCI also saved the Corps an estimated $2 million in costs for hardware, software and warranties over the course of five years.
Users may notice a gain in proficiency as well, Collison said. HCI uses a process called “hot-tiering” to identify and prioritize the most-used data, making it more easily accessible to users at exponentially higher processing speeds than before.
“HCI is also less complicated to maintain for Marine Corps administrators and data centers because of its easy-to-use web interface,” said Jason Hessler, an AMHS support engineer who supports OMS. “The entire system can be installed in a data center in a matter of hours, and once the initial server is built, additional virtual servers can be duplicated in seconds.”
HCI can be used for both unclassified and classified networks, Collison said. The system automatically implements Defense Information Systems Agency security requirements and self-remediates when security breakdowns occur.
“That’s a feature that is unique to this HCI solution,” Collison said. “There’s a list of more than 100 Security Technical Implementation Guide, or STIG, configurations a system requires in order to be compliant with DISA. The great thing about this specific HCI solution is if something breaks, an administrator can just run a remediation command, and the system will fix itself.”
Moving forward, the Marine Corps is continually looking for new infrastructure that makes data center consolidation easier and more affordable.
“HCI provides cost benefits to the Corps that help us continue to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Lt. Col. Dale Webster from the Command, Control, Communications and Computers directorate at Headquarters Marine Corps. “It collapses layers for computing, storage and networking, and creates an environment where we can dynamically provide capacity when and where it is needed across the enterprise.”