Takai mandates entire DoD to migrate to enterprise email

Friday - 9/13/2013, 5:29am EDT

Jared Serbu reports.

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The Pentagon is telling all of the military services and agencies that it's time for them to stop running their own email servers and software, and to draw up plans within the next few months to move to the DoDwide enterprise email system.

Up until now, the Pentagon has been content to let the services and agencies make their own decisions on when and whether to move to the system, operated in a private cloud by the Defense Information Systems Agency. But no more.

In a memo to the leaders of DoD components late last week, DoD chief information officer Teri Takai told officials they have 120 days to draw up plans to migrate their current email infrastructure to enterprise email.

The directive, which also officially designated the email capability as a DoD enterprise service under the department's mandated enterprise architecture, is part of the Pentagon's broader push to shut down service-centric IT capabilities and turn them into common departmentwide services. The military is gradually evolving toward a standards-based computing concept known as the the Joint Information Environment (JIE).

No excuses allowed

And when it comes to email, there will be no escape clauses for the military services, said Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, the CIO for the military's Joint Staff and one of the three co-chairmen of the JIE executive committee. He said it's one of several enterprise initiatives the oversight body is tracking closely in each DoD component.

"[Transitioning to JIE] requires holding people accountable. The best way to do that is to start handing out report cards and start briefing them to the leaders," he told an audience at AFCEA Northern Virginia's annual Joint Warfighter IT Day in Vienna, Va. "Some people are coming to me and saying, 'Hey, I don't like the way our scorecard looks.' OK, do what you need to do to turn green then."

The Army, which helped DISA pioneer the enterprise email service, is by far its largest user and finished migrating most of the service's 1.5 million users last month. The Navy and Marine Corps meanwhile have expressed reluctance to make the switch, with leaders saying they currently get more capability for less money under the existing Navy-Marine Corps Intranet. But Bowman, who served in the Army CIO's office prior to his Joint Staff assignment, said not even the Army has managed to earn a "green" score on its JIE report card for the enterprise email category.

"They don't plan on transitioning West Point and they don't plan on transitioning the Corps of Engineers," he said. "The Army was pounding on me yesterday, saying, 'We're green. We've moved everybody we want to.' If I gave them a green for that, everybody else would use that as the same justification for why they're not going to do any more than they already have. We are working plans right now for how all these organizations comply in all these different areas. Some of them are federally-directed and presidentially-mandated, but these are the things that lead us to the JIE."

Two deadlines set

The DoD CIO memo requires military components to start migrating to the enterprise email no later than the first quarter of 2015. Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, DISA's director, told reporters his agency will be ready to serve the entire military.

"We have the capability to scale to 4.5 million users right now," he said. "We've got 1.5 million right now between the Army, DISA, the Joint Staff, the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] staff and a variety of other users that are out there. What I was told to do was to build out the architecture, and I've given a thumbs- up and said we're ready to go."

As with the broader push toward JIE, the Pentagon believes the single email system will improve security, improve collaboration between military components and reduce overall IT costs. And officials believe the cultural shift it requires is a much easier sell with the current pressure on technology budgets.

"Resource decisions are tough. We all know there's going to be less money out there, and we've got to spend what we've got right," Bowman said. "In the past, we were awash in cash. People could go out and do what they thought was right without looking next door to see if somebody had already done what they were gonna do, so we wound up with concentric fiber circles in places like Balad, Bagram, and you can keep on going. Here in the U.S., Joint Bases are joint in name only. Why do we have to have two communications closets that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a piece that are only sometimes connected to each other? Why do we have to have three commands on the same base all running their own system? We don't. We don't need to own it and we don't need to control it. We need to divest that and put that requirement with someone who has it as a core competency, much as enterprise email is with DISA. They're good at it. Let's give it to them and watch them do it, make sure it's as good as what we've got today. And it had better be better."

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