DoD puts 1 million users in its cloud email system

The Defense Department migrated its one-millionth user into its enterprise email system this week. The Army expects to almost completely transition its unclassified accounts into the cloud service within the next month, meanwhile, the Navy and Air Force are kicking the tires on the system.

The enterprise email program, operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency, got off the ground as an effort to consolidate all of the Army’s disparate email systems under one roof. At the time, the Army operated email as a hodgepodge of local services operated by individual posts, camps and stations around the world. The Army estimates the move to the cloud will save it around $70 million per year.

The one-millionth user, according to DISA, was a soldier at Fort Riley, Kan., whose account was migrated Tuesday.

“It’s been a long road to get to where we’re at today,” John Hale, DISA’s chief of enterprise applications, told reporters Wednesday during a press briefing at the Pentagon. He has been working on the program since 2007. “This is just the first major milestone we’re going to hit as we move forward with the rest of the enterprise services to continue to gain efficiencies within the department and save the department money overall in this austere budget environment we’re in.”

Army still on track to finish

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The vast majority of the system’s users, so far, work for the Army, accounting for 967,000 out of the 1 million. The Army’s report to Congress last year called for virtually all of its more than 1.4 million users to migrate to enterprise email by the end of March. Hale said the Army and DISA still believe they’ll meet that goal during a rapid final surge of transitions over the next few weeks.

But other large DoD organizations have migrated as well, including DISA itself, the military’s Joint Staff, the U.S. European Command and the U.S. Africa Command.

The Air Force may be next as that service consolidates and streamlines its broader IT network architecture under a construct it’s calling AFNET. It is considering DISA’s offering as a way to lessen its current responsibilities for email. The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command are testing the system in a pilot phase for the broader Air Force.

“We’re in deep discussions with the Air Force overall about when and how they’re going to migrate. They haven’t made the decision to go full-bore onto enterprise email yet. We expect that decision soon,” Hale said. “They’re offering up their reserve components to make sure we get all the processes down to make sure we don’t have any impact to the warfighter, so that is ongoing right now.”

Navy IT officials have expressed reticence about moving to DoD enterprise email, saying the DISA offering appeared to be more expensive and less capable than what the Navy currently is getting through its longstanding Navy-Marine Corps Intranet.

But Hale said the Navy also is trying out the service in a pilot phase thorough its Navy Recruiting Command.

“They were an ideal place to try this, because they’re all shore-based and they’re spread out throughout the entire continental United States. It’s a very distributed workforce, so having a solution where they’re all in the same global directory and they can all connect with the rest of the folks in the department very easily made them an optimal candidate,” he said. “When you look at the broader Navy, it gets more complex, and I wouldn’t want to draw the conclusion that the overall Navy has made a decision one way or the other about what they’re going to do.”

Cloud architecture is expandable

DISA officials said whenever other DoD organizations do decide to come on board, they’ll be ready to add capacity to the system.

Alfred Rivera, the agency’s director of enterprise services, said the service-oriented, pod-like architecture of the cloud system, hosted in DISA data centers around the world, is designed to scale up in size on-demand so that the agency is not paying for more hardware or software than it actually needs to provide at any given time.

“Our negotiations with industry have allowed us to buy capacity as a service, so we don’t have any capital expenditures we have to make up front prior to the infrastructure being available to the user base,” he said. “We build it on an on-demand basis, and it’s all based on operational expenditures.”

DISA said enterprise email also will be incorporated into DoD’s recently-introduced plan for implementing commercial mobile devices throughout the department.

The email system already supports 80,000 BlackBerrys using that company’s own proprietary server solution and another 700 Android, Apple and Windows Mobile devices the military services are testing through various pilot programs, Hale said. Those devices will eventually be supported by a mobile device management and internal app store infrastructure DISA is asking industry to build and which is out for bid right now.

“We expect the award to be done this summer, and that solution will eventually replace the current pilots we have going on with all the different devices we have throughout the department,” Hale said. “We would see that standing side-by-side with our current BlackBerry infrastructure for a time, but we would expect to converge those two into a single solution next year.”

DISA officials said email was only the first step on the path to building a bigger stable of enterprise IT service offerings for DoD. To make email work at an enterprise level, the Army and DISA had to create a single authoritative identity management directory that includes every employee in the Defense Department.

Rivera said the global directory laid the foundation for other services DISA is building out in the same private cloud, such as the Defense Enterprise Portal Service and DoD’s implementation of Microsoft SharePoint.

“We currently have a large component of the Army on it. The signal community is all on enterprise portal and so is DISA,” he said. “We’re working with other customers like the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and others to migrate their separate, distributed instances of SharePoint and move them into the enterprise service so they can see the same kind of benefits. We currently have the ability to support 200,000 users, but similar to enterprise email, it can scale as the need grows. The benefit to that is we can keep costs low until such time as we need to put more infrastructure in place.”

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