DoD moves meetings online, but IT systems can't keep pace

Thursday - 1/31/2013, 6:13am EST

Mark Mills, DCO program manager for Carahso

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As budget cuts take their toll on in-person conferences within the Defense Department, more meetings are shifting online, specifically to DoD's in-house Web conferencing service, Defense Connect Online.

The system has seen so much traffic recently that usage is starting to outstrip the system's capacity. And DCO may be about to see even more users. The Defense Information Systems Agency and the contractor that runs DCO have just released an app that lets defense employees host or log into meetings from their iPhones and iPads.

"We're experiencing a tsunami of use," said Mark Mills, the DCO program manager for Carahsoft, the company which runs the meeting service under a contract with DISA. "We have more and more folks using the system, and we've exceeded the capacity on the current architecture that DISA has in place right now. We're working to get a new architecture in place. DISA's working hard with us to get that done, but we're having a very difficult time keeping up with it. It's a good issue and a bad issue at the same time."

It's unclear how widespread the problem is, but Mills said during certain periods of peak demand, users are locked out of the system entirely. The hoped-for, near-term fix is to move part of DCO's traffic into a commercially-hosted cloud environment that complies with the federal government's standards for IT security.

"We're just beginning to work on getting that authorized by DISA, but the feedback in our pilots has been overwhelmingly positive," Mills said.

Spending on face-to-face conferences across government has already been under extreme scrutiny by overseers in both the executive and legislative branches of government since last year's revelations of the now-infamous conference the General Services Administration's western region leaders hosted in Las Vegas.

But as the military services begin planning for the possibility of sequestration and a year-long continuing resolution this year, conferences are one of the top targets for spending reductions from DoD's operation and maintenance accounts.

In the Department of the Navy, for example, even conferences that previously had been given a green light under the heightened standards that followed the GSA debacle now have to be re-reviewed all over again. And re-approval is rare.

Conferences are essentially off-limits at the moment, said John Kirby, the Navy's top spokesman.

The Navy Chief Information Officer's annual conference in San Diego was one of the first casualties. It was supposed to be happening this week, but it isn't. A week and a half before the training gathering was scheduled to start, attendees were told to cancel their travel and hotel plans immediately. The Navy ultimately decided to move some of the training events to DCO in online sessions that are currently scheduled for mid-February.

Mills said the DCO app for smartphones will eventually be integrated into the forthcoming internal app store DoD plans to operate on its own. In the meantime, the iPhone and Android versions will be available from their respective public app stores: Google Play in the case of Android, and Apple's App Store for iPhones and iPads. Users will need to create accounts for DCO using their common access cards from a desktop computer, but after that, they'll be able to log in with a username and password with their mobile devices.

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