DoD to begin rollout of cloud-based joint network

Friday - 5/4/2012, 12:07pm EDT

Rear Adm. David Simpson, vice chairman of DISA, talks to WFED's Jared Serbu.

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After years of discussion and planning, the Defense Department will begin testing the first elements of what it hopes will one day be a seamless end-to-end network that eliminates costly and inefficient information barriers between the military services and other DoD components.

Parts of the Joint Information Environment will begin to take shape in the European Command this summer via a use case trial, officials said Thursday.

"The trial proposes leveraging the successful (Defense Information Systems Agency) and Army joint enterprise networks by extending IP services and incorporating the JIE technical reference architecture to all DoD entities within the EUCOM claimancy," Vice Adm. Harry Harris, assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told an audience at AFCEA NoVA's Navy IT Day in Tyson's Corner, Va.

Harris said the JIE will be heavily reliant on IT services provided through a cloud architecture. The intent, he said, is to move from massive "application silos" to a more flexible, responsive infrastructure that can suit the needs of each military service in a combatant command. In the European test DoD envisions the military branches as well as DISA acting as service providers to the rest of the joint command. Tentative plans call for the Army to be the primary service provider in Northern Europe, while the Navy might provide services to military elements in the southern half of the continent.

Following the EUCOM test case, DoD will repeat the process in the Pacific Command (PACOM) to try and extract further lessons about what works and what doesn't. In both theatres, and eventually around the world, DoD wants to replace service-specific "data warehouses" with a common, interoperable architecture, said Rear Adm. David Simpson, vice chairman of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

"What we're responding to is a real demand signal from the warfighter, first and foremost, to be more effective in this space," he told Federal News Radio in an interview. "In the past, we assembled networks around different mission functions, around different services, around force elements, and then we left it to the forces in the field to try and figure out how to stitch all of those together to get the job done. There's a recognition that we shouldn't be burdening the men and women forward with figuring out how to architect. We really need to architect from the beginning for a joint information environment, and that's what should be delivered forward."

Simpson said the decisions DoD is making about joint IT at the highest levels — including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense — are also a recognition of future resource constraints.

"There's an operational imperative, but then there's a reality around resources that in a declining budget cycle, we have to be smarter about how we do this in the future," he said. "There really are opportunities to eliminate some of the layers and some of the redundant ways in which we've done things in the past." DoD's implementation of the JIE will rest on five "big rocks," officials said:

  • Joint governance. By having each of the military services and DoD leadership serve on an IT effectiveness task force, the Pentagon hopes to be able to uncover all of the department's existing IT resources and allocate them more effectively. Also, each of the JIE's major users will have "buy in" on the final product, Simpson said.

  • Network Normalization. DoD wants to reduce its overall IT footprint, standardize configurations, create shared security protocols up at the enterprise level and simplify data routing.

  • Data center consolidation. Harris said the task force is currently executing a standardized, multi-service consolidation plan for the commands where the JIE will be tried.

  • Identity and access management. A standardized system of user authentication will be enforced on every end-user device in the department.

  • Enterprise services such as enterprise email, collaboration and file storage.

Simpson said DISA is working to create a set of common IT services to support the JIE, with trusted identity management at the core of that "stack" of services. DoD also is making plans to have its future joint environment be interoperable with the cloud services being built by the nation's intelligence agencies.

"None of us want to have inefficiencies and duplication where we can avoid it," he said. "So we're working with the intelligence community to identify those areas where the commonality we're building in the Joint Information Environment can incorporate the part of the IC that comes into DoD. I think the most near-twem piece of that, and the thing I'm most excited about is that if we're going to ultimately collapse our classified domains into a single space, we've got to get a common root of trust across those. We're exploring right now with the IC how we adopt a common root of trust and how to do attribute management and access control in a common way. We're just in the beginning stages of that, but I'm very excited about it."

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