For Army, network tops modernization priorities

Monday - 3/21/2011, 7:06am EDT

WFED's Jared Serbu

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By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio

The Army's new chief information officer says changing the way her service thinks about information technology is a daunting task, but she is ready to tackle a range of modernization efforts including integrating the service's IT networks, eliminating inefficient applications and consolidating underutilized data centers.

Lt. Gen Susan Lawrence said the direction from above, from no less than the Army chief of staff, is that the network is the Army's number one modernization priority. She doesn't expect that to change when a new chief of staff takes over later this year.

That's network — not networks. Lawrence, who spoke to IT and communications industry members at an AFCEA Northern Virginia conference on Friday, said the Army is focused on transforming its collection of tactical networks, collectively known as LandWarNet, into one single network it has dubbed the Global Network Enterprise Construct. It is intended to be accessible to soldiers from anywhere and usable for any Army purpose, both on base and in the theater.

"It's got to be end to end," she said. "A general has got to be able to train his forces as he's going to fight from the foxhole to the home station. And there's a lot of second-and third-order effects that we're going to see from this. One is that it's going to reduce the boots on the ground. If he is connected to his data all the time, he doesn't have to take everything with him. He will get to it through the network."

The idea is that Army forces in the future will be able to deploy more quickly and more effectively, using one network identity, rather than having different roles, credentials and applications for their garrison networks and their tactical networks. Soldiers will have one identity, one email address and access to all their data through the use of a single common access card, whether they're deployed, training, preparing for deployment, or spending down time at home.

"At any given time, only 20 percent of our forces are deployed," she said. "80 percent of our warfighters are in the other three phases. What network are they training on? They're training on the garrison network, which is the global network enterprise, because we're going to operationalize it for them. We're going to ensure that they can get to their battle command system from wherever they are. That's less time when they're back home having to have them deploy just so they can come up on a tactical network. They're going to be able to do this from their home stations. Today we have a delineation between the tactical network and the operational network. The global network enterprise is the end-to-end."

The first piece of the global enterprise puzzle is unified enterprise email, a migration the Army began earlier this year. Lawrence said they've migrated about 1,000 users to the new system so far. Users in the CIO's office were among the first to venture in.

"I went last Friday, and the sun still came up," said Army deputy CIO Mike Krieger at a separate conference last week. "It's actually working very well. I have not lost any combat effectiveness since I went over."

Krieger said cloud-based email services, hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency, will be the first proof of the efficiency the Army hopes to gain from its full enterprise network.

"We have the largest enterprise license agreement with Microsoft, so we already run Microsoft products for email, but we run them very inefficiently, because we're the Army and decentralization is the way we operate," said Krieger, who served as acting CIO for several months prior to Lawrence's appointment.

"At Fort Belvoir, a local post, we have eight enclaves of Exchange servers run by eight different IT shops," Krieger said. "Why don't we move the things that we can off of posts, camps and stations onto the cloud? Perhaps you'll gain operational effectiveness, perhaps you'll upgrade security. You'll have a lot less system admins. And you'll save a lot of money."

Another Army component the service intends to migrate to cloud email is the Department of the Army headquarters, the idea being that if the Chief of Staff and Army Secretary are already using enterprise email, other Army units might be less apt to resist the change.

Lawrence said there have been bumps in the road, and there will be more as they accelerate the migration. To sidestep some of those potential pitfalls, she said the Army will need advice from industry.