Friday, July 4, 2014

USS Arlington Upgrade

Kris Osborn at DoD Buzz website has an article about current upgrades to the USS Arlington, LPD-24 (1).  The main item discussed was modifications to the ship’s computing/data network, the Shipboard Wide Area Network (SWAN).  Briefly, the SWAN routes all data through a common network rather than having separate networks for each major function.  Claimed benefits include fewer physical servers, fewer physical server cabinets (down to four, according to the article), and the use of virtual servers which enhance flexibility.  The benefits are real.  The question is whether they constitute a battle ready system. 

One of the main characteristics of a battle ready system is redundancy.  If one element of a system is damaged, identical, redundant elements can take over the lost function. 

Cost Efficient or Battle Ready?

Another characteristic of a battle ready system is separation.  Critical elements need to be physically separated from each other so that a single hit can’t take out too many elements of the system.  The obvious connection to the previous paragraph is that the redundant elements should be physically separated by as large a distance as reasonably possible.

Unfortunately, this is about as far as my analysis can go.  The article did not specify whether the remaining servers were redundant or to what degree, if any, the server cabinets were separated.  The flip side to having a highly centralized, cost efficient server architecture is that a single hit can incapacitate every ship system that uses the network – essentially, the entire ship! – unless the principles of redundancy and separation have been observed.  Given the Navy’s oft demonstrated tendency to apply business and cost efficiency principles over battle readiness, my fear is that this is another example of a cost efficiency improvement resulting in a degradation of battle readiness.  I hope I’m wrong.

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