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Storage and networking community weigh in on the Pentagon's use of floppy disks

Floppy Disk 

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed a report that highlighted the country's nuclear forces is still using legacy storage, designed in the 1970's. This included a 1970's IBM system and 8-inch floppy disks that became available over 30 years ago. The Department of Defense is using this legacy IT system to support emergency responses. 

The report is starting to raise concerns about expensive and unnecessary IT costs, data protection and business continuity. In an email statement to VMblog, Bob Davis, CMO of Atlantis Computing, said that the report illustrates the need for organizations to modernize their data centers. "With the current impressive growth in computer technology and the rise of virtualized environments, IT admins have the opportunity to simplify management and become more efficient at work," Davis explained. "The traditional storage and compute approach is reaching the end of its practical life as virtualization and the cloud are dramatically altering the IT landscape. Buying SAN or NAS arrays and servers separately is complex and costly for any organization responsible for integrating, managing and maintaining disparate systems to deliver IT services."

Rodney Billingsley, Federal Sales Leader at Tintri also highlighted the importance of virtualization for the U.S. department in order to offer guaranteed performance. "Given the government's emphasis on virtualization, the risk is that these departments invest in storage that offers all-flash IOPS via a dated architecture. That solves for near-term performance, but not manageability. What they really need is all-flash storage specifically built for virtualization and cloud, so they can guarantee performance of mission critical applications and scale with far greater efficiency. Several departments have already invested in a virtualization aware storage platform, and are managing storage in a fraction of the time and at far reduced cost."

In cases where IT managers just don't have the luxury of replacing their entire data center with new hardware, they can use software-defined storage (SDS) to turn existing storage and server hardware into a pool of resources that can be utilized together by applications.

"By implementing SDS and looking for opportunities to implement hyperconverged infrastructure, the U.S. Nuclear Forces could see huge cost savings while regaining vast amounts of time that in the past has been wasted firefighting and maintaining out of date technology," said Davis from Atlantis.

However, upgrading IT systems can be costly and time consuming. Blair Parkhill, director of products at Login VSI commented on the struggles agencies and companies could face: "We understand that modernizing IT is a challenge that's only going to become more difficult. In the process of making their IT systems more modern, government agencies will need to adapt IT processes much faster and manage continuous change. For instance, virtualization can make hardware devices like floppy drives less relevant. Virtualizing the desktop and its applications will give IT administrators the ability to become much more agile. By fully automating the virtual workspace lifecycle, they're opening up a whole new world of continuous development where they're always keeping up with the pace of IT change."

Government agencies also have to plan for the long-term.  “Upgrading and modernizing mission critical systems that keep a country safe and running smoothly is obviously not as easy as swapping out a home PC or a network switch at work,” said Sanjeev Datla, CTO of Lantronix.  “Designing platforms for essential government IT environments requires a thorough understanding of the legacy infrastructure, as well as support from a corporate culture that is willing to upkeep both legacy and modern infrastructure technology deployments in the field for as long as the customer needs.”

Jeremy Balian, head of federal business at SwiftStack noted, "Application development in the commercial world has driven an entirely new consumption model for IT infrastructure. With so much of the DoD's mission involving decisions based on huge amounts of data, the opportunity is now to both drastically reduce cost and modernize data-handling capabilities by 40+ years."

The Pentagon's continued investments in outdated technology is raising eyebrows about data protection and business continuity. Data backup and disaster recovery technology have evolved to allow organizations to recover applications, servers and data in a matter of minutes, and it's not clear how legacy equipment like those 8-inch floppy disks are backed up.

Gabriel Gambill, senior director of product and technical operations at Quorum said, "This news puts into question whether the U.S. nuclear department has a disaster recovery and business continuity plan in place.  If there were a fire or disaster, the ability to recover the main systems in charge of national security would be severely at risk. With mission critical data on the line the U.S. government should not be investing in archaic technology but should be ensuring the future and continuity of its services by investing in current hardware and disaster recovery services which would allow these critical systems to be restored within a matter of minutes. The U.S. nuclear department is running a huge risk in the event of downtime."

Published Tuesday, May 31, 2016 6:47 AM by David Marshall
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