Message convergence rolls on

The old way of delivering organizational messages across the Defense Department was a fixed infrastructure known as the Automatic Digital Network, where messages were sent to a communications center, printed and hand-delivered to a recipient’s mailbox.

The problem with Autodin was that it was slow, lacked the ability to carry attachments, was manually intensive and cost a lot. With the boom of the Internet era in the early 1990s, the Defense Information Systems Agency moved to a heavy client/server infrastructure, called the Defense Message System (DMS), which had the capability to handle attachments, such as maps, videos and spreadsheets.

Although more efficient than Autodin, the problem with DMS was that it required a Class 4 National Security Agency certification at each user’s workstation for nonrepudiation. This messaging security protocol required users to present a PCMCIA card — called a Fortezza card — to log in to the system and decrypt messages. The cards had reliability issues that left users with a lack of confidence in DMS’ ability to deliver their messages.

Today’s user no longer worries about messaging. Although DMS and Autodin are still in use, theyoperate in the background as the X.400 transport layer. The Automated Message Handling System, aWeb-based, enterprisewide messaging system developed by Telos, rides across the transport layer.

The need for organizational messaging is not going away. When critical command and control information and directives are issued,they must come from an organization authorized to issue the orders and directives, and there must be assured delivery within allowabletime constraints and a permanent record of the transaction.

In addition, there must be assurance that the organization issuing the directive is the organization it claims to be and that nosingle individual is so critical that directives cannot be sent or received without them. These requirements demand organizationlevelaction.

As networking technology continues to improve and additional bandwidth becomes available, there will be the opportunity for additional consolidation. The efficiencies gained by moving from multiple communications scattered worldwide will enable the military services to use personnel more effectively and reduce the number of people dedicated to messaging tasks and consequently the burden of training many people to perform highly complex tasks.

There are already plans and discussions under way to combine the services’ existing communications nodes into a far smaller number of joint service communications facilities. These changes will take time to implement because there are differences in individualservice policies and procedures. Each step must also be weighed carefully to ensure that the overall communicationsinfrastructure does not become vulnerable to attacks, either cyberattacks or physical destructionthat would significantly disrupt organizational messaging.

There is also a growing need to share information across networks that now compete for the same bandwidth. Certain organizational messages might contain sensitive information intended for limited distribution, but a good portion should be made available to a wider group of organizations that can benefit from seeing a bigger picture. Consequently, how organizational messages are handled will change.As consolidation occurs, the number of messages that must leave a facility and travel via the backbone networks are reduced.Messages sent and received from organizations via the same joint communications node might be no more than setting pointers in amessaging database. Whatever the solution, it’s clear that information sharing, including wider distribution of organizational messages,will become a reality.

Frank Whitehead is senior vice president of Xacta at Telos. He formerly worked as chief of staff at the Defense Information Systems Agency. He has more than 28 years of Defense Department organizational messaging experience.

About the Author

Frank Whitehead is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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