U.S. Navy enlists virtualization to supercharge sprawling intranet

2009 Green 15: Military agency enjoys huge efficiency gains while slashing energy costs and hardware expenses

The Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) is the largest purpose-built network in the world. It runs on 40 server farms and is used by more than 707,000 sailors, marines, and civilians in 620 locations in the United States and Japan. Thus, the task of virtualizing the NMCI's underlying server infrastructure -- without disrupting service -- has proven to be an enormous technological challenge. Yet the rewards have been significant, reaping the Navy and Marine Corps better network performance and reliability, significant financial savings, and a reduced impact on the environment.

The task of virtualizing NMCI's network fell to EDS, a Hewlett-Packard company, which has managed the system for the Navy since 2001. EDS has thus far consolidated 2,000 of the Navy's 4,500 x86 servers down to 300, each hosting multiple EMC VMware ESX virtual machines. The servers are Dell PowerEdge R900 blades, designed to host multiple VMs. They boast 32GB of memory, six network connections, and six host bus adapters for storage traffic.

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The environmental benefits of the project came as a pleasant surprise to Greg Burke, director of network operations center services for NMCI. "After the first wave of the project, we realized just how significant the environmental impact of virtualization was," he says. "Not only were we reducing our footprint by purchasing fewer pieces of equipment for hardware refresh -- resulting in less hardware waste -- but we were also using significantly less power and cooling energy for the server farms."

When the project is complete, it is expected to achieve a 9-to-1 consolidation of servers, saving the military an estimated $1.6 million per year in power and cooling costs, a reduction of more than 65 percent. Moreover, the organization will avoid spending $1 million on new machines when it comes time to refresh its gear. Additionally, the Navy expects to save 40 to 70 percent of its server farm floor space.  From an environmental standpoint, the virtualization project has reduced the Navy's carbon emissions by 6,800 tons, the equivalent of taking 2,550 cars off the road, and the Navy expects that number will reach 7,466 tons of CO2 by the time the project is complete.

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In addition to servers, the project has focused on virtualizing applications, such as printing, Microsoft Exchange, anti-virus software, and other customer-facing apps.

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