Military CIOs take on network cleanup

Consolidation, cybersecurity, data sharing are top concerns

One of the Defense Department’s major networking goals is to move from individual service networks to a single enterprise that could connect everything from headquarters in the United States to individual warfighters in remote locations. But achieving that goal and others related to network integration, consolidation and cybersecurity is a considerable challenge.

Each of the military services is undertaking its own initiatives to meet DOD’s goals and requirements. Top DOD officials discussed the lessons learned from those efforts, how they support one another and how they mesh with overall government policy at the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Customer and Industry Forum in Baltimore on Aug. 18.

One of the larger networking initiatives has been the Army’s move to consolidate some of its network services, including e-mail. It is part of a far-reaching effort to streamline the service’s networks and provide better security. “It’s not about e-mail, it’s about single identity management,” said Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army’s CIO.

But in setting up the enterprise e-mail service, Army officials detected a number of other effects. “What we uncovered was an extremely dirty network,” Lawrence said. The Army enterprise was a mix of random firewalls and stand-alone networks. It was such a mess that she called in a team to clean it up, which required a pause in the enterprise e-mail program until the network could be sorted out. The Army will soon conduct a test with 10,000 users, to be followed by another pause to assess the results. If the data is positive, the program will resume, Lawrence said.

The Air Force has been conducting its own data-consolidation efforts at the enterprise level. The key to achieving such enterprise-level goals is advocacy at high and senior levels, said Lt. Gen. William Lord, the Air Force’s chief of warfighting integration and CIO. Once high-ranking officers are on board, enterprisewide efforts can be pushed forward, he added.

The Air Force has consolidated more than 70,000 e-mail accounts and in the process found more than 200 networks in the Air Force enterprise, Lord said. That number has been reduced to 15. Consolidating the networks into a single entity will be another challenge. “We’re now trying to use the advocacy, the money and the pressure to drive the business best practices” to achieve consolidation, he said.

Like the Air Force, the Navy is also working on consolidation efforts. And like the Air Force, the Navy’s enterprise was divided up into a number of disparate networks, said Vice Adm. Kendall Card, deputy chief of naval operations for information dominance and director of naval intelligence. To push consolidation and promote governance, the Navy is following a three-pronged plan that consists of:

  • Appointing a sponsor to approve any purchases of more than $200,000.
  • Creating a single procurement authority, which might be the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, though the final choice has not been made.
  • Selecting a single technical authority.

Having a single authority for acquisition and technical selection would reduce unnecessary waste in procurement programs, Card said. “It’s the only way that we’re going to ensure that we get this right,” he added.

The move to cloud computing capabilities is another area where the services are trying to comply with DOD requirements. One challenge in moving to a cloud-based model is how to migrate the data. The Army is implementing a common operating environment to manage its data flow, Lawrence said. One of her challenges is the ever-widening divide between industry’s and DOD’s technical capabilities. The goal is not to close the gap but eliminate it, she added.

New devices coming into the network must be able to run in the Army’s common operating environment, Lawrence said. “If you want to operate in this environment, here are the common standards you will test to,” she said.

Although many of the services enjoy working with robust architectures, the Marine Corps must often operate its cloud in austere environments, such as forward operating bases or aboard Navy ships. When industry offers cloud services to the Marines, the solutions’ ability to be deployed is a vital consideration, said Brig. Gen. Kevin Nally, director of command, control, communications and computers and CIO of the Marine Corps.

The Marines are also experimenting with mobile devices. Marine pilots in Afghanistan are loading iPads with unclassified maps for use in flight. The ability to immediately access a map via a device sitting on one’s knee instead of searching through a box of paper maps has many operational advantages, Nally said. However, he is more circumspect on the subject of using smart phones in forward areas because the devices would require their own cellular infrastructure to operate.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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