DOD mobility pilots getting ready to move on to operational deployment

DISA is about to acquire a mobile device management (MDM) system that will allow the services to more effectively and securely manage mobile devices across their networks.

The Defense Department’s efforts to issue mobile devices to its civilian and uniformed personnel continue to take shape as multiple pilot programs mature and get ready to shift to initial operational deployments. After several years of tests and modifications, the Defense Information Systems Agency is about to acquire a mobile device management (MDM) system that will allow the services to more effectively and securely manage mobile devices across their networks.

This program is just a part of a department-wide undertaking to connect warfighters to information anytime, anywhere. DOD officials discussed the current state of their mobility programs at a Defense Systems seminar on military mobility in Arlington, Virginia, on June 6.

This is an exciting time for DOD mobile programs, said Robert Carey, the department’s principal deputy chief information officer, who keynoted the Defense Systems seminar. One of the military’s main goals is to give commanders and decision makers the ability to access vital information wherever they are. He noted that the DOD’s mobile strategy involves connecting some 600,000 mobile devices—a number he expects will continue to rise over time.

As the number of devices continues to proliferate, Carey said he wants to see more personnel issued with such devices, especially in tactical battlefield environments where communications currently end at the squad level.

The DOD’s mobility plans are focused on three areas: (1) developing policies and standards for mobile devices; (2) selecting and acquiring a mobile device management system; and (3) and educating and training mobile device users.

But while it is pursuing these goals, Carey noted that the DOD must remain aware of certain requirements. One consideration is that while mobile devices and applications provide warfighters with improved command and control capabilities, purely commercial solutions can be prone to failure in harsh combat and austere environments. Vendors do not have to provide military grade ruggedized systems, he said. However, they should be aware of security considerations, such as the need to keep some functions such as global positioning tracking turned off in the field.

As a part of its mobile implementation plan, the DOD has begun building more gateways to allow devices better access to the network enterprise, Carey said. To do this cost effectively the military is working with multiple vendors to provide services and equipment. He noted that the BlackBerry Z10 smart phone was just cleared for use across the DOD in May. Additional tablet and smart phone platforms such as the Samsung Knox with DOD-specific security modifications to its Android operating system will be ready to be issues this fall.

BYOD versus government-furnished devices

The military is also working on its bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Presently, many of the military’s initiatives in mobility are around government-furnished devices.

The DOD is working on what Carey describes as a “notional” BYOD roadmap for setting up policies and programs around the use of personal mobile devices. While the military is “almost there,” there are still many concerns about BYOD that remain to be addressed, such as security, cost and use policies. He noted that there are many BYOD pilot programs across the government, but not on a large scale in the DOD.

The requirements for a DOD-wide BYOD program include: pubic key access-based security to connect to military networks; isolating government applications and data from personal data on a device; developing applications, device integrity and technology insertion; and making sure that user devices stay up to date within the mobile device lifecycle, Carey said.

Pilot programs

While the DOD works out enterprise-wide issues through its overarching mobility program, the services are moving ahead with a number of pilot programs. One such effort is a program to connect Air National Guard personnel.

The Air National Guard is trying to provide mobile devices and service to all of its 89 winds, explained Air Force Lt. Col. Anmy Torres, the National Guard Bureau’s chief for cyber plans and sustainment. The goal of the pilot is to provide mobile devices and connectivity to these units, in addition to applications management systems, she said at the seminar.

The Air Force National Guard’s challenge is to connect some 5,300 BlackBerry smart phones, along with some 2,000 other handheld devices to the network it is established, Torres said. But while the Air National Guard is setting up a network, it is also waiting for DISA to finish its cross-DOD mobile environment to plug into that larger enterprise.

While there is a lot of pressure from users to get a mobile system up and running, the Air National Guard is holding back and waiting for DISA to set its network up correctly. “We don’t want to tell people we have an environment to set up and then have to turn it off because we didn’t do it right,” she said.

Another organization working on its own mobile programs is the U.S. Army’s Information Technology Agency (ITA), which is responsible for providing IT support for the Army headquarters. Besides supporting the Army, the ITA is also charged with supporting all of the information technology services in the Pentagon itself.

Part of these responsibilities is setting up and managing mobile device service in the facility, explained Thomas Sasala, the ITA’s chief technology officer.

There is currently a moratorium on bringing wireless devices into the Pentagon, Sasala explained at the Defense Systems seminar. This has to do with a combination of security concerns and poor reception due to the building’s heavy concrete, 1940s architecture.

The ITA has rolled out WiFi services throughout the building and also manages the Pentagon’s wireless intrusion detection system, which keeps track of any wireless transmissions—from approved and unapproved devices—within the building. The agency is actively involved in DISA’s mobility programs. Sasala noted that as a part of this effort, the ITA discussed the state of the market with vendors in 2012, but added that over the course of a year, the market has changed completely.

“It is moving faster than we can adapt,” he said. “It is moving faster than any enterprise can adapt to.”

The ITA is also the organization behind rolling out the Pentagon’s IT roadmap, which has a mobility component. One aspect of this plan will be to make the network as flexible and scalable as possible through centralized network management, Sasala said.

The agency also has a pilot program underway that is expected to be in full production by the end of this year. To support the effort, he noted that he has 48 terabytes of data storage to use for both desktop virtualization and mobile applications. The ITA has already virtualized 48 percent of the data centers in the Pentagon with a goal to push this up to 80 percent over the next three years.

Data centers in the facility are housed in server rooms. There are currently 15 in the Pentagon, and over the next three years, Sasala wants to see this reduced to eight.

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