Army cloud email a 'pathfinder' to enterprise services

Wednesday - 8/17/2011, 6:00am EDT

Part 1

Mike Krieger, deputy chief information officer, Army

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Part 2

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By Jared Serbu
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Army on Tuesday cautiously resumed the huge task of migrating 1.4 million email users from individual technology enclaves at posts, camps and stations around the world to a new cloud enterprise system.

Army IT leaders who originally hoped to complete the project this year are now aiming to wrap up by March of 2012. It had been on hold for the past month after the Army discovered its network simply wasn't ready to support the change. The service had not been behaving like a unified IT enterprise over the past decade, officials said, and as a result, its network was littered with poorly configured routers and inconsistent business practices.

But the transition is not only about email for email's sake, said Mike Krieger, the Army's deputy chief information officer. Following this transition, he said, the Army plans a new wave of enterprise services enabled by a more unified network, including collaboration tools in the cloud for the entire Army based on Microsoft's Sharepoint, which will largely replace the Army Knowledge Online secure web portal.

"This may be the pathfinder, but we're making the right changes for any services we want to run," Krieger said in an interview with Federal News Radio. "Certainly from the DoD private cloud, but I think it would probably enable services from commercial clouds into the Army too."

The resumption of email account migrations on Tuesday involves 10,000 users at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Fort Lee, N.J.

Following those changeovers, which the Army is now managing remotely with an automated software tool, engineers will halt briefly, evaluate the results and then repeat the process twice more. Barring any huge problems, a full-speed-ahead migration will begin Sept. 1.

"We think we'll be able to finish by the end of March, but it's conditions-based. If we have to exceed that, we're okay with it," Krieger said.

End of the pause

The end of what the Army has termed an "operational pause" came only after the service spent a month fixing issues on its network that didn't become apparent until the advent of a standards-based service like enterprise email.

"Things that we could tolerate on Army posts, camps and stations — because we were provisioning services locally — can't be tolerated as you move to an enterprise service," he said. "There's a lot of network cleanup. Now we really have to pay attention to bit error rate and lost frames, we have to watch that the firewalls are set right. In the past, we had not paid so much attention to that because local network services could operate in a dirtier environment. There were standards that all of this stuff was supposed to be set to, but we just haven't been behaving as an enterprise. We really haven't found anything that shouldn't have been corrected earlier, it's just that the Army is now getting into some discipline and operating as an enterprise versus operating as local enclaves."

Krieger said the move to enterprise email also forced the Army to enforce consistent IT business practices across the entire service.

"For example, early in enterprise email, the first people to find out about a problem were the users," he said. "Now we're at the point where I'm getting a warning email in the morning that tells me there's a problem, there's a trouble ticket in and then I get another email that tells me it's resolved. I got two of those yesterday. That tells me that the business processes are now in place and they weren't before. So we had network settings problems, but business processes also weren't set up at the enterprise level. Both of those are huge fixes for the Army as a whole, but they also support the transition to enterprise email."

The move to the Defense Department's private cloud, which is managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), involves not only the Army's users, but those from joint organizations including the U.S. Transportation Command, European Command and Africa Command, plus the Defense Logistics agency and DISA itself.

Nonetheless, getting other military branches and combatant commands to sign up for the enterprise service is important to its success, said Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett, DISA's director.

"This is more than a proof of principle. It's more than a pilot," Pollett said in a roundtable with reporters at DISA's customer and industry forum in Baltimore on Tuesday. "I think this is a game changer in terms of how we provide services within the department. This is the wave of the future, and it gives us greater security. We bring the security up into the cloud instead of trying to provide at a million points of light on the ground."