All DoD eyes focused on Army's cloud email transition

Wednesday - 5/4/2011, 7:21am EDT

WFED's Jared Serbu

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By Jared Serbu
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) thinks selling the Navy and Air Force on its cloud-based email system is a question of when, not if.

Maj. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, DISA's vice director, told reporters Tuesday that DISA was in active negotiations with the other two military departments even as it moves through the process of transitioning the Army's 900,000 email users to its new internal cloud-based enterprise email system.

"On this side of the street, in DISA, it's 'when.' If you talk to the services, it's 'if,'" he said. "We're in those negotiations with all of them right now. The 'ifs' are contingent on the pricing and the delivery of the capability."

Hawkins and Mike Krieger, the Army's deputy chief information officer, say pricing and capability were not the only things the other services were watching. Krieger said within DoD, all eyes remain on the Army. The service will soon ramp up its transition from the many stovepiped, geographically segregated and relatively ungoverned email systems the Army uses now, to a single enterprisewide email system, managed by DISA at nine data centers around the world.

The Army has moved roughly 20,000 users to the cloud so far, Krieger said, but will accelerate its migration to DISA system with the help of an automated migration tool the Army first developed to let troops hang onto their data when they deployed.

He said they hope to use the same tool, with some modifications and patches, to transition roughly 1,000 users per night at any given command to the new cloud service.

One of the first major Army components to move will be the Army department's headquarters (HQDA). Krieger said that is not an accident.

"When I get 16,000 people at HQDA, including the Secretary of the Army, the chief of staff, the undersecretary, the vice chairman, and a whole lot of principal three-star (generals), I think a lot of people who are saying 'if' will say we've reached the tipping point," Krieger said. "We frontloaded HQDA so I can get the secretary, the chief and all the seniors on board so I can get over any resistance. Then, when I hit the four-star commands, I can say, 'the boss is already on. You're next.'"

DISA also is bringing email users from several of DoD's combatant commands into the cloud, including the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). Additionally, the Defense Logistics Agency has signed on for the service, and DISA itself will migrate its own employees to the same cloud, Hawkins said.

Krieger said the Army paid DISA $52 million to handle this year's email services, translating to roughly $50 per user, per year. But he said the Army reached the agreement with DISA with an understanding that the service's costs would decrease after the first year of service.

"As you put more people into the cloud, the more volume you get, the less its costs," Hawkins said.

Krieger said the cloud email system also will host mobile enterprise email capabilities. For now, that means Blackberry-only, but adding support on the cloud provider side of the equation would be trivial as soon as security challenges around newer platforms like Google's Android and Apple's iOS are solved.

The Army also is looking to move the entire service's Sharepoint collaboration systems to the DISA cloud, Krieger said. Much like email, those systems today operate on servers scattered across Army posts, camps and stations around the world.

"We think it's the same business case," he said. "The software's paid for, but there's too many people standing up their own Sharepoint portals. So what you're paying for is extra servers and extra people running them."

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.

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