Our nation’s defense relies on robust logistics systems to support around-the-clock mission readiness. The criticality of those systems is often taken for granted — until they cease to function properly. The United States Air Force (USAF) needed to modernize its 50-year-old legacy mainframe supply chain platform to reduce operating costs, improve system agility and ensure full mission readiness of its bases around the world.
Through a Defense and Intelligence partnership spanning nearly 20 years, the USAF and NTT DATA modernized software development methods, re-platformed a complex proprietary system and pivoted a mission-critical enterprise logistics platform to the USAF cloud.
The USAF operates one of the world’s largest and most complex logistics systems: the USAF Integrated Logistics Systems-Supply (ILS-S). Over 100,000 direct and indirect users rely on the ILS-S to provide daily supply and equipment support for wartime flying missions 24x7x365 at 250 USAF, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard facilities worldwide.
Historically, the USAF managed its software development lifecycle using a waterfall model. But the USAF sought a faster way to develop software as the requirements of the ILS-S grew to keep pace with our adversaries. In 2005 and 2006, USAF sought NTT DATA’s help in blending agile processes into development work on the ILS-S to quickly adapt to changing requirements.
- Accelerates platform modernization with transition from waterfall to agile
- Transforms system from a customized COBOL on Unisys platform to Java on Red Hat Enterprise Linux
- Migrates hierarchical database to Oracle relational database
- Eliminates footprint on a cluster of five legacy mainframes
- Migrates 120+ server, 5TB production environment to AWS GovCloud/USAF Cloud One
- Expands to monthly software releases using agile delivery model
- Guarantees future agility with security through DevSecOps
The United States Air Force implemented agile software development workflows to make ILS-S a modern, high-performance logistics management platform supporting mission needs in near-real time.
The latest chapter in a long partnership
NTT DATA has supported the USAF ILS-S for nearly two decades with a focus on continuously transforming its capabilities through new technologies. Together, the USAF ILS-S Program Office and its supporting contracting team — including NTT DATA; Array Information Technology, Inc.; Datum Government Solutions; DSD Laboratories; LMI; THE CENTECH GROUP, Inc. and The Software Revolution, Inc. — worked to:
- Introduce and implement agile software development workflows to accelerate and expand ILS-S capabilities
- Create a pioneering continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) delivery model to further accelerate ILS-S capabilities
- Modernize the Standard Base Supply System (SBSS) — a core component of ILS-S — by re-platforming the SBSS from a COBOL-based system running on outdated mainframes into a modern, open standard JAVA on Red Hat Linux platform
- Transform ILS-S from an on-premises environment into an elastic, secure cloud deployment on the USAF Cloud One Amazon Web Services (AWS) GovCloud
Today, the ILS-S is a modern, high-performance logistics management platform that supports USAF mission needs in near-real time.
Giving wings to agile
The hybrid blend of waterfall and agile workflows enabled the USAF and NTT DATA’s public sector modernization team to create a continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline for the ILS-S. The CI/CD pipeline greatly increased the quality and delivery speed of functional improvements to the system. The move toward agile and CI/CD formed the groundwork for a future effort — a complex modernization of the key component of ILS-S.
Taming the “Beast”
The ILS-S is a massive system built from several sub-systems, all tightly integrated to process the over 60 million annual business transactions required to maintain USAF readiness. The core of the ILS-S is the SBSS, a critical supply and equipment production system.
The SBSS was designed in the mid-1960s — its operation required over a million lines of Assembler code running on over 100 proprietary Univac 1050 mainframes across the Air Force. Over time, computing moved beyond mainframes and the demands on the performance of the SBSS increased. That combination of platform and complexity earned SBSS the nickname “Beast.” The prospects of modernizing the Beast were so daunting that it became the principal subject of an academic text produced by Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute on modernizing legacy systems.
In 2015, the USAF determined that after 50 years of managing rising operating costs and due to a diminishing COBOL labor force, SBSS had to be modernized to make it affordable, sustainable and ultimately, cloud-ready. But the mission-critical nature of the SBSS meant migrating to a new platform had to be done with minimal downtime and no loss in data, functionality or performance.
NTT DATA’s experience with the ILS-S environment provided critical guidance to the ILS-S contracting team. They chose to re-platform SBSS onto a Red Hat Enterprise Linux/Java architecture. That option leveraged automated COBOL-to-Java code conversion tools, blended waterfall/agile methodologies and extensively used the CI/CD delivery model. NTT DATA invested its resources in a proof of concept to ensure the viability of its proposed solution, thus substantially reducing the risk to the USAF in what was essentially a “no fail” mission.
The team accomplished the SBSS re-platforming on time and under budget. It delivered an open standard platform that met or exceeded the original SBSS performance specifications and eliminated the need to maintain five legacy proprietary mainframes. This led to a $25 million reduction in annual hosting costs.
With the SBSS re-platformed to a flexible, open standard environment and the software development teams now empowered with significant agile capabilities, the ILS-S program pivoted to the cloud for further modernization.
Into the clouds
The USAF continuously innovates by adopting new digital technologies that'll amplify mission readiness while driving down operational costs. In 2017, USAF launched an initiative to take advantage of the cloud.
The USAF chose to migrate ILS-S to the AWS GovCloud, accessed through the USAF’s Cloud One. NTT DATA’s development team partnered with Datum Government Solutions, Array Information Technology, Inc. and THE CENTECH GROUP, Inc., to provide technical leadership to migrate the entire ILS-S staging and production environment, including more than 120 servers and 5TB of operational data, to Cloud One. The deployment was 100% automated using infrastructure as code delivered via a comprehensive CI/CD pipeline and extending from development through the production environment. The team migrated the system over a single weekend.
This cloud transformation empowered the long-standing partnership between USAF and NTT DATA with new opportunities to expand the value of ILS-S — including tools to implement DevSecOps, automated CI/CD and monthly production software updates using agile.
The USAF and NTT DATA have digitally transformed the ILS-S over a period of nearly 20 years and through multiple contract transitions. Together, they have delivered the technical leadership required to successfully transition the mission-critical ILS-S from waterfall to agile, migrate a legacy system to a modern platform and successfully migrate that system to the cloud with even more improvements on the horizon.
About The U.S. Air Force
Created on August 1, 1907, the United States Air Force (USAF) is the air service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the eight uniformed services of the United States.