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NEWS | July 28, 2020

Cloud migration modernizes Army’s financial enterprise

By Thomas Brading Army News Service

The Army’s latest cloud migration launched this month, as the force’s financial enterprise system moved over 30 terabytes of data from outdated storage centers to a modern cloud environment seven months ahead of schedule, said the program’s top officer.

The Army’s General Fund Enterprise Business System, or GFEBS, migrating to the cloud is the “first and largest effort of its kind to date,” said Col. Donald Burton, its project manager on Thursday. “[GFEBS] pioneered its way to being the force’s first fully cloud-computing financial system, and will be followed by the Army’s logistics software platforms.”

Improving the Army’s business systems is part of a major, long-term strategy to better align its capabilities within the information age, said Jonathan D. Moak, the senior official performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Army for financial management and comptroller.

“Migrating GFEBS to the cloud was a foundational step toward that goal, because we’ve enabled our workforce to operate systems that are more accessible, reliable, and provide better data optimization,” Moak said.

GFEBS is a web-based system that provides around $1 million in real-time transactions every day to more than 35,000 users worldwide. It is the first of five programs in Burton’s portfolio to leap into cloud computing by 2022.

Each year, GFEBS handles more than $164 billion in transactions, making it one of the world’s largest web-based enterprise landscapes and one of the top priorities for Army senior leaders.

The GFEBS effort, like the rest of the Army’s cloud-computing push, is part of “the next wave in future technology,” Burton said, partly due to the cost-effective price tags that come with its performance-enhancing web systems.

“The herculean effort didn’t happen overnight,” Burton said. The first step in the GFEBS cloud move was taking multiple terabytes of information from on-site data storage centers, which Burton compared to “very large hard drives,” and moving them to the Amazon Web Services software, which hosts the Army’s cloud system.

That’s where the Defense Information Systems Agency and the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command were tagged in. They worked as “critical partners in the migration,” Burton said, because they ensured the Army had the bandwidth needed to support such a large data transfer.

Along the way, other service agencies and industry partners helped in the effort completing the 189-person team, Burton said.

Once the data was relocated, the information had to pass various checks during the verification stage. By then, all that was left was just to ensure “the zeroes and ones lined up appropriately on the back end,” Burton said, along with functional and performance testing to make certain everything was good to go.

After that, it went live.

“The completion of this monumental effort underscores our ability to press forward with strategic partners to provide modern solutions that benefit our workforce, and the Army as a whole,” Moak said.

“This modernization effort will improve the user experience, improve reliability and disaster recovery,” Burton said. Now that GFEBS is in the cloud, the Army is no longer using data centers that have to maintained, he added. “With our data in the cloud, it’s more visible, accessible, understandable, trusted, interoperable and secure; and more easily maintained by a service provider.”

Not only is it easier, but the move eliminates the need to spend upwards of $10 million on mandatory tech refreshes in data centers every five years.

The spared manpower will now shift to other modernization efforts, Burton said, which in turn, “prepares the Army for tomorrow versus just maintaining itself for today.

“Think of it like this -- if you have 300 family members all living in the same house, you would have to buy a house large enough to accommodate them all,” he said, hypothetically comparing the data centers to the family home.

“Even if you only have 300 people in the house at the same time maybe twice a year, the additional space will be needed.”

That’s how the on-site data farms work, he said. “You have to have space, and hold the space until additional space is needed. Whereas in the cloud, there's scalability. You can spin up capacity to accommodate all 300 people when you need to, then go back down to six or seven who may reside in the house on a day in and day out basis.”

In his example, Burton said the GFEBS cloud capabilities -- unlike the large family home -- efficiently conducts operations when it doesn’t have to constantly maintain, upgrade, and replace countless hardware even when it’s not being used.

By modernizing the Army’s tech infrastructure, cloud services have mitigated the risk of losing critical financial data, Burton said. In doing so, it preserves system availability ensuring users can continue to conduct daily financial actions including civilian pay, support services, and procurements for anything a Soldier might need.

So, how does cloud computing do this? “Well, let’s say if GFEBS goes down in the data center, it can take hours for the system to transition to a back-up, resulting in data loss. In the cloud, we now have the ability for that transition to occur instantly, saving time.”

Another time saver Burton pointed out was how quickly GFEBS runs reports now. For example, some detailed financial reports that used to take more than 65 hours to run have been cut to roughly 16 hours, he said, adding his team has received positive feedback in the field.

“But that’s just one example,” he said. “Many reports are now running anywhere from half the time, to sometimes three or four times the speed” than before.

And at the end of the day, that’s why his team does the work they do, the colonel said. “It's all about helping our Soldiers.”

"Our people -- Soldiers and civilians -- are always the top priority," Moak said, "and we're thinking about the tools they need to accomplish the finance mission and accelerate the Army's priorities of readiness, modernization, and reform."