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New Information Systems Directions for the DoD

We have a new a DoD IT Enterprise Strategy and Roadmap.  The strategy has been just signed by the DEPSECDEF as well as by the OSD CIO. (1) This makes it the highest-level statement of IT directions in over two decades. The new strategy calls for an overhaul of policies that guide DoD information systems. Implementation of the strategy now becomes a challenge in an era when funding for new systems development declines.

The following illustrates some of the key concepts that require a complete reorientation how DoD manages information technologies:

1. New policy: DoD personnel will have seamless access to all authorized information, enabling the creation, location, uses and sharing of information. Access will be through a variety of technologies, including special purpose mobile devices.
Current condition: Seamless access to information is presently not possible. DoD personnel use computing services in 150 countries, 6,000 locations and in over 600,000 buildings. This diversity requires standardization that would be difficult to make available.
Conclusion: Extremely hard to do. Requires a change in the way DoD systems are configured.

2. New policy: Commanders will have access to information available from all DoD resources, enabling improved command and control, increasing speed of action, and enhancing the ability to coordinate across organizational boundaries or with mission partners.
Current condition: Over 15,000 uncoordinated networks prevent access that offers increased speed as well as real-time coordination.  Consolidation of all of the networks under centrally managed network control centers becomes a key requirement for further progress.
Conclusion: This becomes an extremely difficult undertaking. Can be done, but would require a complete reconfiguration of the GIG.

3. New policy: Individual service members and government civilians will be provided with a standard IT user experience, enabling them to do their jobs and providing them with the same look, feel, and access to information on reassignment, mobilization, or deployment.
Current condition: DoD systems depend on over seven million devices for input and for display of information. There may be millions of unique and incompatible formats for the delivery of user experiences.
Conclusion: To remedy format incompatibilities requires the replacement by means of standard software of all the existing interfaces. That becomes a multi-billion task, though shifting costs from low cost thin clients to a highly reliable cloud makes this option feasible.

4. New policy: Common identity management, access control, authorization, and authentication schemes are necessary to permit access based on a user’s credentials.
Current condition: This policy calls for the adoption of shared networks as well as the revision of access privileges that are currently included in close to 70,000 servers.
Conclusion: The workflow between the existing personnel systems and the access authorization authorities must be revised. Overhauling the systems access privilege granting process will require a change in organizational relationships. This policy can be implemented rapidly and at a low cost.

5. New policy: Common DoD-wide services, applications, and tools will be broadly usable across the DoD, thereby minimizing duplicate efforts, reducing data fragmentation and translation, and reducing the need for retraining when users are reassigned, mobilized, or deployed.
Current condition: This policy cannot be executed within the organizational and funding structures currently in place.
Conclusion: Standardization of applications and of software tools will necessitate junking much of the code already in place, or temporarily storing it a virtualized legacy codes. Reducing data fragmentation would require full implementation of the DoD MetaData directory, currently in a decade-long development program. This policy will most likely be the most costly part of the entire new strategy. May take a decade to implement.

6. New Policy: Streamlined IT acquisition processes must support rapid fielding of capabilities, inclusive of enterprise-wide certification and accreditation of new services and applications.
Current conditions: Presently there are over 10,000 operational systems in place, controlled by hundreds of acquisition personnel. There are 79 major projects (with current spending of $12.3 billion) that have been ongoing for close to a decade and that have a proprietary technology deeply ingrained.
Conclusion: Disentangling DoD from several billions worth of non-interoperable software can be done by changing OSD policy and obtaining Congressional approval.

7. New Policy: Consolidated operations centers will provide pooled computing resources and bandwidth as needed. Standardized data centers will make it easier to access, reallocate, and monitor resources.
Current conditions: The existing number of data centers, estimated at over 770, represents a major challenge in consolidation without major changes in the software that currently occupies over 65,000 servers.
Conclusion: Can be done by shifting the workload to commercial Infrastructure-as-a-Service suppliers, but under tight DoD control to make a shifting of the workload possible.

There is no question that the new OSD IT policy is in line with what are the requirements of the new military environment. The problem is how to implement the transition, because the financial, technical and organizational hurdles are challenging.

The idea of reprogramming 10,000 operational systems into a standard environment, with standard desktops, is neither affordable nor technically executable on an acceptable schedule. DoD will have to consider radically new ways how to achieve the goals of the new policies.

One of the options is to shift DoD systems to a Platform-as-a-Service environment where a standard DoD enterprise infrastructure supports multiple systems, even virtualized legacy applications. Another option is to migrate “commodity applications” such as document processing, collaboration and e-mail to Software-as-a-Service offering.

 (1)  Signed_ITESR_6SEP11. Version 1.0 – 6 SEP 2011

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