DIA takes the lead on developing a common desktop environment

Grant Schneider, DIA's deputy director for information management and CIO, discusses the path toward common links between the intelligence agencies.

Grant Schneider is deputy director for information management and CIO at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Schneider is a member of the Senior Executive Service and has been in his DIA position for about five years. He also chairs the Defense Department Intelligence Information System (DODIIS) Executive Council, and he represents DIA and the DODIIS community on the Director of National Intelligence’s “Big 6” CIO Council, as well as the DOD CIO Executive Council.

He spoke with Defense Systems Editor-in-chief Barry Rosenberg about the path toward common links between the intelligence agencies and DIA’s recently released strategic roadmap.

DS: Please bring me up to date on activities to link the intelligence activities of the "Quad" organizations: National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), National Security Agency (NSA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the DIA, as well as the CIA.

Schneider: We started a little over two years ago with the four agency directors telling their CIOs to drive their IT architectures and infrastructures to be more similar and closer together. In fact, we hit our IOC (initial operational capability) deliverable on Feb. 15. About six months ago, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper held an offsite, and one of the question he had asked the agency directors within the intelligence community (IC) to answer was what are some monumental changes that we could make now that would shift the way we do the business of intelligence over the next five to 10 years.


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One of the topics that came of that was overall IT efficiencies and IT effectiveness. So how can we operate our intelligence community IT systems as one enterprise, as opposed to a DIA enterprise, an NRO enterprise or a CIA enterprise. The DNI asked the CIOs to conduct a 30-day study; we then came back and said "this makes sense to us," and they tasked us to do an implementation plan, which the DNI approved in December.

As part of that approval we also designated four different functional service areas, if you will, to have service providers for the community. We discussed that there would be two cloud environments; a commercial, private cloud environment; and a government, private cloud environment, with those going to CIA and NSA, respectively.

We also decided that we would have NSA run what we are calling the overall applications mall, which is really to set the standards on how we are going to do apps and widget development. We decided that each of the agencies would develop and implement their own applications store — a place where the widgets and the apps would be accessible to users. We also decided that we would have one organization be the service provider for the common intelligence community desktop environment.

DIA and NGA teamed together and submitted a proposal to the DNI. We submitted a proposal for the desktop environment, and the DNI selected us to be the provider for that. So last week we turned in our initial implementation plan to the DNI, and that’s under review now. So what we are focused on right now on a daily basis is reaching IOC for this desktop environment sometime in this calendar year.

DS: What is the technical enabler that is going to make these linkages possible among the intelligence agencies?

Schneider: The intent is that we will have commonality of services really at the core. We are talking mostly TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information), so when we talk about having a common desktop environment it means that you will be able to go anywhere — certainly within the big five agencies to start — sit down at any TS workstation at NSA as a DIA employee, log in, authenticate to the system there within the Fort Meade complex, and be able to get access to your e-mail, your home directories, your shared files, etc. So we will add mobility across the agencies, whereas today we really are immobile within our agencies, for the most part.

It’s also going to help facilitate information sharing because we’re now going to be moving towards an environment where we will do security and tagging of data at the data level, as opposed to the network level. Today you largely get access to information based on where you are in the system, i.e., I am on DIA’s network or I am on NSA’s network, and you need to be on one of our networks in order to get to “our data.” In the future you will be on the common IC (intelligence community) network, and you will gain access to data and information based on who you are, what role you have and what accesses are available to you.

DS: What is the initial roadmap for that capability?

Schneider: To get to the ultimate is certainly going to take a while. The initial roadmap is that we are starting down the path to moving more and more of our data out into the cloud environment, and more of our users into a common-user environment so that they can get access to data. My guess is that, from a technology standpoint, there still will be some forms of firewalls, if you will, at the data centers.

As we move the control mechanisms further from the user and closer to the data, the networks will be still be protected, but [we will then transition from] the networks having responsibility for governing access to data, to maybe having the data centers governing access to the data, and ultimately to the data itself and some authentication systems governing access to the data.

DS: Commonality across your agency is one of the key elements of DIA’s new, strategic five-year plan through 2017. Commonality of what specifically: networks? IT systems?

Schneider: Commonality in the way we approach the business of defense intelligence within the agency. So the director is very focused on a one-mission, one-team, one-agency approach to everything from IT to analysis collection, financial management, human resources and everything in between. He really wants us to be focused on what are the core things and the core missions that DIA is providing moving forward. And so we are all aligning to the common theme of how we deliver our intelligence capabilities to our customers, both internal to DIA and external to DIA. Certainly from an IT perspective then my strategic plan is really focused on the customer. So what is it that the customer needs? What is it that the customer is trying to accomplish? My objective for my organization is to deliver tools and capabilities to make the customer successful, as opposed to doing an IT for the sake of doing IT things. We need to deliver to our customers the capabilities that have the agility they’re looking for because we support a wide range of diverse missions.

DS: Please bring me up to date on the continuing rollout of your next-generation, virtualized desktop environment.

Schneider: We continue to move down that path, and are about halfway through with about 6,000 deployments so far around the world. And we’ve got about another 6,000 to finish off within the National Capital Region, if you will. From a technology standpoint it is a continual evolution of the way we deliver the desktop experience to our customers, and is moving more to where it’s about exactly that, which is their experience as opposed to the box that we deliver it on that sits on or under their desk.

DS: And how are you enjoying the experience? I imagine you are one of the first to have gotten the new virtualized desktop.

Schneider: It’s working well. You certainly always have a few bumps when you roll out something significant of this nature, although I like it a lot. I think it’s faster, more responsive and easier to work with than the thick clients that we have in the environment today.

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