Joint information and enterprise capabilities top DISA's priorities.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins Jr. is director of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), a job he assumed in January 2012. Prior to that he spent about six months as deputy director of C4 at the Joint Staff. Before that he was DISA vice director for just under two years.

He spoke with Defense Systems Editor-in-Chief Barry Rosenberg about enterprise services, mobile device management and security, big data analytics and the effect of sequestration on DISA programs.

DS: With support of the warfighter a given, what’s at the top of your to-do list?

Hawkins: It would be making sure that we provide the warfighter and the Defense Department with the enterprise capabilities that they need. And that starts with the Joint Information Environment (JIE) that we are building out. So JIE and enterprise capabilities are the two things that are tops on my list right now.

DS: Enterprise e-mail is one example of the enterprise capabilities you noted, but what does “enterprise” mean to the tactical soldier?

Hawkins: What enterprise means to the tactical soldier is that they can reach their data no matter where they are, as a result of us being able to put the data in the cloud. And so the enterprise, to us, is not just e-mail. Although we started with e-mail as our foundational piece, it’s more about providing capabilities at the enterprise/cloud level, which makes the deployed soldier, sailor, airman, marine, coastguardsman and civilian contractor able to reach out and get their information and their applications as soon as they need them and bring them down to whatever device they are using.

DS: DISA is presently in source selection to acquire a mobile device management (MDM) capability, which should address some of the recent problems with the use of mobile devices in the military, such as the inability to track devices or erase data from lost devices, as highlighted in a recent report from the DOD Inspector General.

Hawkins: Mobile device management is key to everything that we are working on in our mobile strategy. And so it’s important for us to get the right capability out there and the right architecture implemented. I have the outmost confidence that John Hickey (project manager for DOD mobility at DISA) and Dr. Jennifer Carter (DISA component acquisition manager) are bringing that along.

Within DISA proper, a year ago we wouldn’t even allow a mobile device in the building, and now we are getting ready to hand off secure mobile devices to the senior leaders of the Defense Department. So we have come a long way, and within the next four to six months, we will bring about the secure mobile capability, as well as the unclassified capability. It all hinges around mobile device management.

DS: Is MDM all about security—the ability to wipe data from a lost phone, for example?

Hawkins: MDM is about being able to manage device: where it is at, what is on it, how it’s being used. We believe that is paramount to our architecture.

DS: Do you envision a bring-your-own-device environment in which service members use their own personal phones for work?

Hawkins: Right now it is a work device that we are talking about. Bring your own device is obviously something that we are also looking at. Our chief technology officer, Dave Mihelcic, is working at that feverishly because we understand the requirements and the desires of our populace, so we are looking at that. However, that is not a part of the current DOD mobility strategy—to implement bring your our device on the network.

DS: The next question is about mobility and big data. With mobile devices, every soldier can truly become a sensor, meaning that there will be a mountain of data to sift through. So what is the connection between big data analytics and the mobility plan for the DOD?

Hawkins: The connection is in the information. When I use [the term] “big data” I am speaking more from the perspective of the analytics and the heuristics that come as a result of the data that you are processing, such as what you see within the commercial side right now.

I was down at the Montgomery DECC (Defense Enterprise Computing Center), and while I was travelling down there I used my credit card in a Wal-Mart. I hadn’t gotten to my car before the credit card company was calling me asking why was I using my card in Alabama when my home was here in Washington D.C.

That’s what we are talking about with big data analytics, where we can analyze data at the speed that the information is moving and then determine what the capabilities are and what the utility is for the warfighter. It’s about our ISR assets and how they process information. And it’s about making sure that we don’t have data “falling on the floor,” as I call it. That’s what we are talking about with big data. DISA has the capability to store a tremendous amount of data now. Analysis of that data is what we are stepping into, so far as being able to reach in and get the kind of information that is important to us.

DS: You mentioned data storage. DISA recently awarded a contract to a company to provide a huge amount of data storage. Is storage going to be an issue for DISA going forward?

Hawkins: The manner in which you store big data and the use of Hadoop technologies and the like are very important to us. That’s what we have got to look at.

DS: Back to the JIE. What’s DISA’s role in developing the JIE in concert with the Joint Staff’s J6 office for command, control, communications, computers and cyber?

Hawkins: The DOD CIO, the J6 and the CYBERCOM J6 are the leads for the JIE. We are the supporting element for all of the DOD in that we have the JIE Synchronization Office in DISA. So all of the technical requirements that are coming along with JIE are passed and tasked to DISA to implement, to draw up the proper architectures and then to produce the capabilities that are important within the JIE, starting with the single security architecture. DISA is building that out for the DOD.

DS: Please define the single security architecture.

Hawkins: What we are talking about is, rather than the standard defense in depth that you see right now within all of the services, we are building out that architecture again at what we would call “an enterprise level,” so that everybody gains the advantage of the security without everybody having to implement it at their particular base, post, camp or station. That is the single security architecture in a nutshell.

DS: How is DISA being affected by sequestration and defense cuts?

Hawkins: Every organization in the DOD is obviously affected by sequestration. [Dealing with sequestration] is a major priority for DISA. What we are doing, first and foremost, is keeping our personnel informed on what is going on with sequestration, particularly the furlough issue. And so we are working very hard to keep everybody informed. We have not seen any of the effects of the drawdown in cost right now because that is still being determined. So the big thing that we have been doing with sequestration is making sure our personnel are informed. They are the most important assets we have, and we want to let them know where we stand right now.

DS: With the furloughs that you mentioned, is it going to be more difficult to retain the cyber workforce that you need because key individuals will decide to work elsewhere? Is there a connection between sequestration and your ability to maintain a cyber workforce?

Hawkins: There is a connection between sequestration and readiness for everyone. The services have talked about that, and no doubt it will affect every department differently. We have not started looking at the cyber workforce piece and tying it to sequestration. In fact, we are still building that out ourselves.

DS: You have mentioned that mobility is one of those disruptive technologies bringing enormous challenges, but also major capabilities, to the military. You also put what you call a “unified capability” into that disruptive category. Can you please define “unified capability”?

Hawkins: I think our unified capability is also going to be one of those disruptive technologies that move us away from the standard collaboration suite that we’ve used in the past. For us, unified capability is the ability to move, as much as possible, everything over IP. When you get into that environment, you are able to collaborate at a very high data rate.

About the Author

Barry Rosenberg is editor-in-chief of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryDefense.

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