Army e-mail consolidation first step in enterprise efforts

Long-awaited move could trigger DOD-wide transformation

Over the next two years the Army will consolidate the various e-mail accounts for nearly 250,000 users in a move toward creating a managed, enterprise-wide e-mail, calendar and messaging system that could eventually serve all of the Defense Department.

The draft request for proposals posted March 5 tentatively puts a $243 million price tag on the migration and management services contract and sets an initial timeline to begin migrating accounts in November and finish by April 2012. The draft also invites potential bidders to partner with the Defense Information Systems Agency to develop the system, to be built on Microsoft Exchange 2010, according to Army procurement documents.

More on Army enterprise e-mail efforts:

Army explores commercially managed enterprise e-mail

Nothing like a challenge

The roughly 250,000 accounts in question are only a fraction of the Army’s 950,000 users. It’s a plan that has long been championed by Army Chief Information Officer Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, who is spearheading the effort as part of the Army’s Global Network Enterprise Construct (GNEC). GNEC is a major, ongoing information technology consolidation project designed to streamline military communications.

“This RFI outlines the strategy for enterprise e-mail, and they’ve been working this for awhile. The Army is taking the DOD lead on this,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting.

In the future, an enterprise e-mail account could allow service members to log on to a single account from virtually anywhere. According to a concept of operations document, it would foster communication across DOD, from Washington to the tactical edge as well as virtual teams that could work together from opposite sides of the globe.

But the challenges for enterprise e-mail are numerous, beginning with the 15 separate Active Directory “forests” that house the data and networks and facilitate e-mail communications across several hundred sites worldwide. The current system is not always functional when mobile and there is no enterprise-level overview of availability. The new system would need to also reconcile the several e-mail addresses some service members already have as well as the existing two million Army Knowledge Online and Defense Knowledge Online users’ information and capabilities.

And then there are the transition challenges associated with Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), which is under way relocating thousands of Army personnel, including those from Army Forces Command, Army Materiel Command and Transportation Command, all scheduled to move in the second quarter of this year.

Lt. Col. Peter Barclay, Army CIO/G-6 Advanced Technology Directorate, acknowledged in August 2009 that the enterprise e-mail service would not be ready in time for many BRAC-related moves, meaning users will have to migrate e-mail accounts when they move and again when the new system becomes fully available.

But the Army estimates the move will save millions of dollars and slash the current operating cost of $400 million a year, as well as improve mission efficiency and reduce cyber threats that loom over the current network’s multiple points of entry.

“This is a step in the direction of enterprise infrastructure that has been talked about by [DOD CIO] Dave Wennergren, [Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Gen. James Cartwright and Lt. Gen. Sorenson,” Suss said. “There is some uncertainty and risk that add a wrinkle here, particularly in the competition between the commercial sector and DISA, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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