Army confronts battle to globalize its network resources

The Army released its long-awaited RFP for enterprise messaging, but its larger push for global network enterprise services promises to be a challenge.

Editor's Note: This article was updated April 14 to incorporate new information provided by the Army. The original article said initial deployment of the Army's Area Processing Center program would target 20,000 users at Fort Eustis, Va., Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Lee, N.J. The corrected information: The Army will target 251,000 users at three headquarters - Army Materiel Command, Forces Command and Transportation Command-- before the end of December. Deployments will expand to Ft. Huachuca, Ft. Riley and Redstone Arsenal

It’s been more than a year since Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army’s chief information officer, began evangelizing his strategic vision for how the Army’s networks should work: each soldier gets one user account, one e-mail address, one phone number, and one set of software tools that work regardless of the soldier's location. But realizing that vision continues to be a steep uphill climb.

In its current form, the Army’s LandWarNet is still a collection of fragmented networks with distributed operational controls, different configuration management schemes and often incompatible tools.

The Army has separate information technology operations — Network Enterprise Centers (previously known as directorates of information management or DOIMs)--at 447 locations in the United States. They support 19 different commands and agencies.

The cost and difficulty of operating so many disparate networks has become a servicewide problem, and it prompted a March 2009 memo from Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, who called for establishing a truly global Army enterprise that can securely and timely deliver the IT services that soldiers anywhere in the world require. To meet that challenge, Casey said, “the Army will transform LandWarNet to a centralized, more secure, operationalized and sustainable network capable of supporting an expeditionary Army in this era of persistent conflict.”

Unscheduled Delays

The transformation effort's goal is what Army officials have called the Global Network Enterprise Construct (GNEC): a set of global information services that give soldiers a common set of applications and information resources.

The Army reached an important milestone in that effort March 5 when it issued its draft request for proposals for its Enterprise Messaging and Collaboration Service.

However, the difficulties of realigning duties, compounded by new budgeting demands, have complicated efforts to meet the service's three-year time frame to complete the broader vision of LandWarNet’s transformation.

In one of many unanticipated delays, Army officials insisted that LandWarNet IT investments had to be linked to IT spending plans for training and purchasing of equipment for fiscal 2012 to 2017 budget planning cycle.

Senior Army officials “looked at Army as an institution and concluded as we budget and plan for programming for IT, for buying equipment, training, sustaining forces, the IT that supports all that is spread across the programs associated with those activities,” Sorenson said at an Army IT conference in January. “That makes it extraordinarily cumbersome to make sure the IT resources are matched up correctly.”

The stakes are high for GNEC. The program's goals include dramatically reducing the cost of overall network operations while improving their effectiveness and cybersecurity. GNEC also would improve the Army’s ability to collaborate with the rest of the Defense Department.

“What the Army is doing is basically moving to treat the network like a weapons system,” said Kevin Orr, operations director of Cisco Systems’ DOD business.

Under the GNEC realignment plan, all NECs and all of LandWarNet’s fixed infrastructure would be consolidated into regional, or theater, network service centers managed by the Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM).

According to the Army’s plan, the service will set up five NSCs to handle the networking, data processing and storage, operations, and security for their respective operating regions: two in the continental United States, one in Southwest Asia, one in Europe and one in the Pacific region.

The heart of each NSC will be an area processing center, which is a consolidated data center. The APC model pulls the applications and data storage out of local data centers at Army facilities and centralizes them in a regional data center. Applications would be mirrored across each APC, providing a global LandWarNet intranet and a standard set of enterprise servers to users who operate in their area of responsibility. In theory, that would lower total operating costs and improve the overall configuration management, availability and security of the Army’s servers and applications.

APCs will transform the now-scattered Army enterprise computing assets — identity management, e-mail, collaboration software, knowledge management portals and other applications — into a set of enterprise services that are accessible through a LandWarNet intranet portal. Those tools will be an evolution from the Army's Web portal, Army Knowledge Online, and the Army’s SharePoint sites, eventually opening all enterprise services to mobile and garrisoned users.

The Army created its first APC in Oklahoma City in 2007. But Army officials were unhappy with the results.

“Due to technical complexities and fiscal constraints, the Army is now looking into buying services from an outside service provider in place of procuring its own hardware/software,” the Army CIO's Chief Integration Office reported in a statement on NSCs in December 2009.

The effort to establish APCs will get a boost from the first major application consolidation under the GNEC plan later this year. By the end of 2010, the Army will begin the first phase of consolidating all of its e-mail systems into a single Enterprise Messaging and Collaboration System (EMCS).

“The ultimate end-state of the Army EMCS is to provide operational forces with the ability to access e-mail from any terminal attached to a DOD network in any operational environment,” wrote Herman Wells, Enterprise Services Chief for the 7th Signal Command, in a concept of operations document for enterprise e-mail released March 3. “Forces can easily discover the contact information for, and exchange messages with, anyone in the DOD enterprise.”

Sorenson said in his presentation at the Army IT Day in January that the Army anticipated a first-phase contract award for EMCS in the third quarter of fiscal 2010. A proposed schedule of deployment from the Army’s Program Manager for Area Processing Centers targets deployment of the solution to more than 251,000 users at three headquarters - Army Materiel Command, Forces Command and Transportation Command-- before the end of December. Deployments will expand to Ft Huachuca, Ft. Riley, and Redstone Arsenal.

Global Directory

Perhaps the most important element of the APC effort will be consolidating the Army’s identity management systems. To ensure that soldiers can easily collaborate across Army domains, the service will need to collapse its fragmented Active Directory services into a single, global directory service.

The NSCs would also centralize networking and satellite communications into fixed regional hub nodes. The nodes will provide global connections to GNEC through satellite connections and will link to the other four regional nodes, in addition to Army facilities via the Defense Information Systems Network. And each NSC will include a unit that focuses on securing and optimizing the availability and performance of the NSC’s IT resources.

The first NSC, NSC Europe, is being built in Germany. NSC Europe participated in Austere Challenge ’09, an annual Europe Command joint exercise, said Maj. Timothy O'Bryant of the Army CIO office's Architecture, Operations, Networks and Space Directorate. 

Army’s Enterprise Service Agenda

According to the Army’s Global Network Enterprise Construct plan, area processing centers will provide many enterprise services, such as:

•  E-mail/BlackBerry services.
•  Application hosting and enterprise services.
•  Data management and storage services.
•  Unified capabilities for voice, video and messaging.
•  Collaboration.
•  Security services.
•  Backup/data recovery services.
•  Service desk.
•  Identity management.
•  Directory services.
•  Installation processing node/data center build out and modernization and Army Knowledge Online.