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NEWS | Sept. 22, 2021

IT Modernization at NSWCDD: ‘We are light years ahead of where we were’

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Glenn Jones came to Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) in late-2019 to serve as the new activity command information officer (ACIO) and IT division director. “Our leadership told me to go out and make great things happen. Not the same things, but different things,” Jones recalled in a recent conversation. “I was delighted to hear the desire for change and to be given an opportunity to revolutionize the NSWCDD end-user IT experience.”

Jones has lived in King George County for years and worked for the Secret Service in downtown Washington when he heard that NSWCDD was searching for an expert in information technology to lead an ambitious modernization effort. Jones’ 2019 start date came at an auspicious time when NSWCDD command was completing a strategic plan to shape priorities at Dahlgren for the next five years. When that plan was unveiled in 2020, it delivered a multi-year plan for IT modernization making it a strategic priority, and directing significant new funding for that purpose. Jones saw it as both a challenge and an opportunity, calling it a “plan to deliver next generation IT capability.”

Before Jones arrived, the IT landscape at NSWCDD evolved somewhat organically as each technical department responded to pressing needs of their local users. Departments operated their own data centers, independently purchased their own licenses for common software and processed IT service requests differently. This made sense at each incremental stage, but also caused issues for end-users and efficiency. The approach championed by Jones began at the foundation level by breaking down these inter-department silos and rebuilding a more cohesive, efficient IT infrastructure in its place.

Where there was once a decentralized collection of local data centers, IT modernization brought in a unified cloud environment that functions across departments. Current best practices emphasize hybrid cloud infrastructure that combines the sheer power of off-premise server farms with local machines handling functions that demand close proximity, extensive “on the edge” data analytics, or special security. Cloud based technology offers the most power at the lowest price. Compared with the servers that had been operated by various departments, it is also very responsive. “There are processes that used to take six to eight months to accomplish,” said Jones. “That’s how long it takes to buy server hardware through the federal procurement process, receive it here, put it on racks and get everything configured.” Now, many of those processes take place on cloud servers, and Jones says that “users just submit a request and we are able to stand up a solution in minutes.”

NSWCDD employees have also likely noticed another one of the technology modernization priorities, in the form of a one-stop IT portal that replaced a patchwork of imperfect legacy systems. Previously, “if you needed a phone you called this office, but if you needed a computer you call that office,” recalled Jones of the ad hoc system that evolved in the past. “We had four or five different portals” to handle these requests. After more than a year of groundwork, NSWCDD launched the one-stop portal this summer to handle all IT requests, ranging from small one-off computer orders to major server rentals. The one-stop portal also combines new capabilities, like a knowledge database of articles, policies and procedures that answer many common questions, as well as status trackers and other features. Jones calls the change “a huge step towards IT modernization” and anticipates further improvements in the months ahead to add instant chat between users and technicians and a mobile version of the portal.

“We are light years ahead of where we were just two and a half years ago, but we are not stopping there,” Jones said. After tackling foundational issues, the IT division director keeps a mental list of projects he would like to deliver for end users on base in the not-too-distant future.

“They will have rapid one click access to unlimited storage and compute capability, a broader selection of applications to include a modernized DevSecOps toolkit and pipeline, a diverse end-point catalog to include lightweight computers that are easy to carry around and extreme performance PC’s able to meet high-end on the edge data processing requirements,” Jones said. “We are going to saturate this place with WiFi, where feasible, and deliver anytime/anywhere/any device capability. I can picture collaboration spaces that have access to all of the research, business, academic or commercial networks. I've got a vision for the future, but what we are doing now is the simple foundational work that will get us to that end point within five years.”