Army exploring commercially managed enterprise e-mail system

Service is part of a broader move to streamline operations and reduce operating costs

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — In a move aimed at providing universally accessible communications services to its soldiers, the Army released a request for information this week seeking industry recommendations on ways to provide commercially managed enterprise messaging and collaboration services.

A primary goal of the system is to provide soldiers a single e-mail address, along with related calendar, address book and collaboration functions, that would be accessible from anywhere in the world throughout their career, said Lt. Col. Peter Barclay, Army CIO/G-6 Advanced Technology Directorate, speaking at the LandWarNet 2009 conference.

The RFI also reflects the Army’s mandate to drive down operating costs. Army officials expect to realize significant cost savings by moving away from the practice of Army installations hosting and supporting their own e-mail exchanges, and instead, hosting e-mail services at a handful of centralized data centers. The move coincides with the Army’s overarching Global Network Enterprise Construct, a plan to consolidate and standardize its information networks, Barclay said.

The Army Enterprise Messaging and Collaboration Services RFI signals a significant shift in the Army’s approach to enterprise services by considering an e-mail system managed by commercial providers rather than by consolidating the services internally.

“The enterprise e-mail services would be commercially managed within the DOD [Defense Enterprise Computing Center] environment,” Barclay said. It would provide for Microsoft Exchange E-mail, Microsoft SharePoint and Research In Motion BlackBerry Enterprise Server, among other capabilities, he said. The initiative would also establish a global address list, simplifying the process of maintaining accounts and finding e-mail address information, he said.

The Army currently maintains more than 850,000 NIPRNet (Non-secure IP Router Network) and more than 100,000 SIPRNet (Secret IP Router Network) business e-mail user accounts on servers distributed across hundreds of Army installations. In addition, the Army wants to migrate an additional 1.2 million retiree and family-member accounts from a variety of distributed organizations to a separate, centrally managed e-mail system, with lower performance requirements outside of the official business environment.

The Enterprise Messaging and Collaboration Services plan is not expected to impact the Defense Message System, a joint DOD-wide enterprise messaging service, according to Gary Winkler, the Program Executive Officer for Army Enterprise Information Systems.

Complicating the Army’s efforts to centralize its e-mail services, however, is the wholesale relocation of thousands of Army personnel who will begin moving to new quarters next year under the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) plan.

Barclay acknowledged his group faces an aggressive set of target dates as it attempts to set up enterprise e-mail support for personnel from the Army Forces Command, Army Materiel Command and Transportation Command in time for their moves, scheduled for the second quarter of fiscal 2010. He also acknowledged that the new enterprise e-mail service would not be ready in time for many making BRAC-related moves, meaning personnel face the prospect of migrating e-mail accounts when they move and again when the new enterprise systems becomes fully available.

Another complicating issue: The Army’s popular Army Knowledge Online (AKO) Web portal, and its DOD affiliate, Defense Knowledge Online, already provides e-mail and chat services to some 2 million servicemen and women and their families. How the Army plans to reconcile AKO’s e-mail service capability with the new enterprise e-mail service plan remains unclear, said Winkler.

Part of the answer lies in the more robust requirements expected from the new enterprise messaging and collaboration system. According to the RFI, the Army envisions the new system would include the following capabilities:

  • Commercial industry standard e-mail and calendar functionality.
  • Support sending/receiving e-mail attachments (with the capability to remove these attachments from stored e-mail).
  • Function with all common DOD end-user devices (including stateless and mobile devices).
  • Include archiving and retrieval capabilities.
  • Function in the unclassified, Secret, Top-Secret (TS) and TS Secure Compartmented Information user environments
  • Common Access Card authentication required on NIPRNet — User ID and password on SIPRNet
  • Transport Layer Security client authentication using public-key infrastructure certificates or user name and password. Provide the ability to turn off the user name and password capability.
  • Client workstation configured with Microsoft Vista OS and Microsoft Outlook 2007.
  • Server baseline is Microsoft Windows 2008.
  • Provide availability within tactical local area networks when disconnecting from the wide area network is required. The local systems providing this capability should synchronize with the enterprise when appropriate.
  • Ability to synchronize mailboxes between commercially managed service account and deployed account from deployed Army operated Exchange server (2007).
  • Provide e-mail and calendar capabilities for groups or organizations. Since the domain name for e-mail will be common across the enterprise, the user names for groups/organizations must be appropriately managed at the enterprise level.
  • Distinguish between different identities such as when the user is accessing e-mail as a contractor or a reserve officer on official duties.
  • Provide role-based access enabling the ability for multiple authorized users to access a single mailbox, or receive mail based upon their position.
  • Enables users to access their mailbox and calendar, and send/ receive e-mail messages or calendar invites, from any DOD or non-DOD system (with appropriate restrictions based on user location and classification level), at any time, using only DOD Enterprise-level identity and authentication methods (such as the DOD CAC, where appropriate).
  • Facilitate the sharing and editing of documents with an integrated SharePoint solution.
  • Support centralized E-Discovery and search capabilities to enhance the Army’s compliance with established policies.
  • Provide a consistent interface and collaboration environment across the entire Army enterprise.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of Defense Systems from January 2009 to August 2010. He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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