Lessons learned from the modernization of the Air Force ILS-S logistics system

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The Air Force’s Commercial and Enterprise Systems (BES) directorate is no stranger to modernization. BES’s Integrated Logistics – Procurement (ILS-S) system has been in constant modernization since the early 1980s, when its main component, the standard commercial procurement system, moved from assembly code to COBOL. Since then, there have been several mainframe consolidations, two failed attempts to implement an enterprise resource planning system, and multiple attempts to better streamline and integrate…

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The Air Force’s Commercial and Enterprise Systems (BES) directorate is no stranger to modernization. BES’s Integrated Logistics – Procurement (ILS-S) system has been in constant modernization since the early 1980s, when its main component, the standard commercial procurement system, moved from assembly code to COBOL. Since then, it has gone through several mainframe consolidations, two failed attempts to implement an enterprise resource planning system, and multiple attempts to better streamline and integrate its various moving parts and processes. More recently, BES moved the system to the cloud, specifically Amazon Web Services’ Cloud One.

Along the way, BES has learned a number of lessons learned about major system upgrades.

“Any time you change your entire infrastructure, it’s basically a base release. I mean, it’s not a minor release, it’s not a patch,” said James Harbison, ILS-S Principal Engineer for BES. “It’s a basic version. So we had to test our entire code base. »

Harbison said BES needed to break down all the functionality of ILS-S, write test descriptions, and then decide what would be automated and what would be manual. The most critical functions, he said, were the best candidates for automated testing. They ended up with around 10,000 automated scripts running continuously. Harbison credited this continuous testing for the reason the commissioning was nearly error-free.

Another important thing to remember was the need to avoid range drift; Harbison said trying to do too much at once has been the downfall of Air Force projects in the past. The problem with too many changes at once, he said, is that when you run a test and get a different output, you don’t know what change caused it.

Harbison also praised the decision to use open source code rather than an off-the-shelf commercial solution. He said that 95% of the ILS-S system code is open source.

“The only thing we have in our system that isn’t open source is the Oracle Relational Database, which is a COTS product,” Harbison said. “Because if you’re not careful, you’ll get a software stack you can’t afford. You’ll be doing all that work and coding, but you’ll be spending all your money on software licenses.

BES discovered that the open source version of Java is a fully functional third-generation language that does everything it needs. The application server and Big Data solution of ILS-S are also open source.

Harbison said one of the advantages of using open source solutions over COTS is the advantage of having a community of thousands of developers maintaining the code, as long as you stick to the big products rather than to niche products. And if something goes down, BES has a support contractor to fall back on because they have access to the source code.

Another benefit of open source solutions is the ability to break down code and examine what’s inside. Harbison said people often cite the possibility of vulnerabilities in open source code as a reason for choosing COTS products instead, but what they don’t consider is that those COTS products also depend on open source code. . It’s just not economical to code every line from scratch. But that same open-source community that maintains the code also makes it more likely that, if there is a vulnerability, someone will find it and report it before anyone can exploit it.

This combination of community maintenance and integrated threat information sharing is something that many have struggled to foster between the public and private sectors.

“In COTS, sometimes you just don’t know you have a threat because they won’t share code with you,” Harbison said. “But trust me, they’re also full of open source; they just won’t tell you.

Harbison cautioned, however, that this approach forces developers to stay on top of the latest releases in order to stay up-to-date on security patches. It can be a challenge.

He also cautioned against overestimating the cost savings of moving to the cloud. Some people have predicted that the cloud will be 10% of the cost of using the Defense Information Systems Agency’s mid-tier servers, but Harbison said it’s closer to half the cost. That said, he said BES saved about $22 million by getting rid of Unisys mainframes. Earlier this year, Harbison said, they also implemented reserve instances, which is on track to reduce costs even further, to somewhere between $2 million and $3 million.

Embracing agile development principles has also paid off, Harbison said. Prior to making this change, BES was shipping about 10 releases per year on the waterfall method. Since switching to Agile in 2018, Harbison said BES has increased the rate of releases to one per month.

Harbison then said that BES was looking to replicate its successes in modernizing ILS-S – which is the Air Force’s retail supply system – on its inventory control system, which is the supply of big.

“Basically, we’re going to move them out of an IBM mainframe, we’re going to move them to the cloud at the same time, because that’s the requirement. And it’s a four to five year effort, but we’re going to use the same kind of concept,” he said. “We do a lot of automated testing. So we use the same basic constructs, and everything for this parallel effort.

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