Data Management and the Navy: The Navy Virtualizes

February 26, 2011

If you thought data management was difficult in business, imagine the nightmare it becomes in the Navy. The Navy faces monumental and unique challenges with its shipboard networks as, just like everywhere else, data flows continue to increase. The systems aboard US ships tend to be outdated since they can only be upgraded while the ship is in port, and incompatible with each other because they tend to run unique software on custom-made hardware, which also drives up the price.

Though the challenges are unique, the solution comes from more common enterprise approaches. The Navy intends to virtualize its hardware so that it can run its command, control,communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications (known by the acronym C4IRS) with common software on often off-the-shelf platforms.  This initiative is known as the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services, or CANES, program, which would transfer systems to powerful services that would then be accessed like the internet by shipboard thin clients. This would overcome massive inefficiencies as all systems would become interoperable, networks would be far easier to manage, hardware would become cheaper and easier to upgrade,  redundant data now stored on multiple computers would be deduplicated to save space, and there will be less technology lock-in when more systems become compatible, which will make the acquisition process more open and competitive.

While virtualizing Navy hardware and applications would solve these problems, it would also pose a new one. CANES will probably result in more sensitive defense information being transferred wirelessly much more often, increasing vulnerability. Here the military can once again borrow solutions from enterprise approaches. Savvy enterprises have been implementing virtualization techniques to enhance security. Virtualization can  improve security. Products such as Invincea can wrap parts of an environment in virtual lock boxes, detect threats to a virtual environment, close it, and start a new one in seconds to pick up where the compromised environment left off. Instead of the hardware or software, the only element risking infection is the disposable virtual environment. By virtualizing its systems, the Navy may actually make them more resilient.

Last month, the CANES program entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase where Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors and Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems will produce prototypes to be tested in operational environments to see which company will get the billion dollar contract. Hopefully both those firms are checking out virtualization concepts now to see how they will fit in this approach.