Tech trends emerge across DOD enterprise

With new IT-related products and approaches being introduced every day, the Defense Department, like many organizations, spent a good bit of time and effort in 2012 inquiring about emerging technologies and understanding the benefits they might bring to the mission. While topics such as cybersecurity and big data are ongoing areas of interest, there has been significant activity this year around mobility, thin client computing and cloud services.

These technology areas make up a broader set of computing trends that are emerging across the DOD enterprise. These new technology directions are evident in recent guidance and policy published by DOD and government leadership, such as the DOD CIO office’s interim guidance on adoption of cloud services and mobility, or the Federal CIO’s Bring Your Own Device Toolkit released earlier this year. As a possible indication of broader adoption, these new computing approaches have also been reflected in a number of request for information documents issued and acquisition efforts undertaken this year.

With its recent release of the Mobile Device Manager and Mobile Application Store (MDM/MAS) request for proposal, the Defense Information Systems Agency is attempting to offer mobile device management to the DOD. DISA is planning to offer this service widely within the Defense Department, with a stated goal of managing up to 262,500 devices. It appears that this service could grow over time and potentially manage all mobile devices in the DOD, a total that could exceed one million. The objective of the RFP is not only to provide for the control and management of the device itself (MDM), but also to create a single destination for users to access DOD mobile applications through an MAS.

As this program and technology continue to develop, this may impact broader acceptance of BYOD across the DOD. By including a mobile application store capability, government workers and contractors will be able to securely access applications and perform work from a mobile device, whether that device is government-furnished or personal.

Thin-client computing, where the computer desktop experience is delivered from a central data center instead of from the local memory and disk, was another key area of interest to the DOD in 2012. One of the most telling examples of the DOD’s investigation of this computing approach was the release of the Zero/Thin Client RFI by the Air Force Space Command in early 2012. The purpose of the RFI was the potential transition of approximately 1.2 million users from thick client workstations to thin client workstations.

The Army and Navy also began exploring thin client computing in 2012. The Army, through DISA, this fall released a broad agency announcement, soliciting research proposals to better understand the development of Common Access Card (CAC) authentication on a thin client device. One of the Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network RFIs inquired about thin or zero client computing and its possible deployment across the Navy enterprise.

As we have seen in mobility, DISA is exploring ways to establish itself as the source of cloud services to the DOD, even when those services are provided by commercial cloud providers. In the recent Cloud Services Broker RFI, DISA is investigating acting as aggregator and distributor of cloud services by maintaining a catalog of cloud services. These services could be provided by multiple commercial and government cloud service providers and would be added to DISA’s existing product portfolio and handled much the way DISA offers the DOD telecommunication and other IT services today.

Broader efforts to manage the acquisition of cloud services are also in progress. The General Services Administration issued a similar Cloud Broker RFI this year. The RFI notes that these systems may either augment each other or be combined and serve presumably as a single cloud-service acquisition resource for the government as a whole.

In 2012, we have seen the DOD take steps to explore and adopt emerging technologies such as mobility, thin client computing and the acquisition of cloud services. With much of the information now in hand and early acquisition efforts underway, it will be interesting to see, as we move into 2013, which of these trends will continue to evolve and become a reality across the DOD community.

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