After pause, Army prepares for 'gangbusters' enterprise email transition

Wednesday - 8/10/2011, 5:29am EDT

Jared Serbu, reporter, Federal News Radio

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By Jared Serbu
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Army's huge transition to a single enterprise email system has been on hold as it worked out unexpected technical challenges. But leaders say after working out some kinks in their networks, they're about ready to restart the process.

Within the next few days, the Army will begin carefully ramping up the migration process after pressing the pause button a month ago, said Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, the Army's chief information officer. By September, she said, the service will be moving at full speed toward enterprise email. She expects the service to be finished by next year.

The Army has been moving users from various geographically dispersed email systems run by individual commands and military bases into a new system in the cloud operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency since February. The entire migration involves roughly 1.4 million users, but fewer than nine percent had moved as of Aug. 2.

The Army had hoped to speed up the pace of the migration this summer but decided it needed to declare a temporary timeout from any further migrations.

"A couple things have happened as we did this," Lawrence said Tuesday at an AFCEA Northern Virginia Warfighter IT conference in Vienna, Va. "Enterprise email is working great, but in the process, we uncovered a pretty dirty network after 10 years of war. No standards. Three hundred people thinking they could direct what was happening on the network. Units not buying software that was compatible with another unit's applications. No desktop standardization. We can go through the whole list of how we were just not very disciplined over the last 10 years."

Enterprise email has forced the Army to impose discipline and fix longstanding network issues: a good thing, in the view of Army IT leaders, even if it's delayed the move to DISA's cloud.

The pause paid off, the Army's deputy CIO, Mike Krieger, wrote in a recent blog post. At the beginning of the intermission, users at one base submitted 500 trouble tickets regarding the enterprise email system in a single week. After the Army and DISA replaced and reconfigured networking equipment, complaints at the same installation, Aberdeen Proving Ground, fell into the single digits.

In other locations, the software patches needed to make the transition go smoothly were only in place about 80 percent of the time at the start of the operational pause. Now the Army has 95 percent of the patches in place.

With such fixes in place, Lawrence said it's time to start moving back toward migration. Within the next few days, the Army will conduct a test migration of roughly 10,000 users in three groups, with brief pause and evaluation periods in between.

"After that, we're going to take off like gangbusters," she said.

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