Air Force aims for one network by end of 2012

Monday - 10/31/2011, 5:01am EDT

Interview with Nicholas Davenport, program manager for AFNet migration

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The Air Force is busy breaking down hundreds of local IT networks — that grew up according to their own rules over the past couple decades — and consolidating them into one enterprise network.

The service said it has shut down the legacy networks at 27 of its bases and major commands and merged them into an enterprise network called AFNET. There are 384 bases left to go, but the Air Force will finish the migration by the end of 2012, said Nicholas Davenport, the Air Force's program manager for the migration.

The service, however, will not try to make AFNET all things to all people. Bases will continue to be responsible for monitoring and managing their own local network architectures and fixing problems for their own communities of users.

So in the Air Force's case, what does it mean to have one network?

"What we mean in the scope of the AFNET migration is the standard core services that service the entire Air Force," Davenport said in an interview with Federal News Radio. "We're focusing on things like email, a single centralized helpdesk and a centralized Active Directory structure. There are still instances where you're going to have dedicated circuits or things like that, but what we're doing is providing a single view into those that will allow us to command and control those as well. So while they're not going to integrated and controlled by the same mechanism, they're still visible by the same mechanism, so that 24th Air Force [the service's cyber command] understands where they're at and how they're being utilized."

The migration also involves the consolidation of base-level data centers into just three main facilities. The Air Force is establishing regional processing centers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio; Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County, Md.; and Scott Air Force Base in southwestern Illinois.

Preparing for DISA's cloud?

And while the AFNET migration is intended to enable enterprisewide IT services for the Air Force, precisely who will operate and manage those services in the long term remains to be determined.

"It's still in flux, and we're working very diligently with our Air Force Space Command team, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and other external entities to determine what absolutely has to be hosted inside the Air Force and what doesn't," he said.

"I think the direction we're going to be continuing toward unless we get new directives is that eventually the Air Force is going to be taking part in DISA's enterprise email," he added. "So what we're doing is posturing to make that as painless as possible for the Air Force users. So when we do it, it won't be from 10 or 15 or 20 different environments, it's all from one. We'll have one migration path. We're also trying to identify other services that may be able to be hosted external to the Air Force - the ones that make sense and where we require collaboration with other entities. The bottom line we'd like to get to is that this enables a much smoother transition for any of those services to an enterprise facility."

The Army is the only military service to have signed on to DISA's enterprise email offering. Its migration is currently underway, with a tentative completion target of March 2012. The Army encountered numerous problems during its migration progress, leading it to declare a temporary pause in migrations earlier this year which has since been lifted.

Davenport said the Air Force has learned some lessons from the Army's enterprise migration.

"But probably not as much as we'd like to," he said. "We've traded all our documentation back and forth, but it's still on our to-do list to have a sit-down at the technical level with their folks to really understand how they're doing it, why they're doing what they're doing and what the impacts are so we can try to frame the Air Force methodology for transitioning to DoD email in the future."

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