Plan for DISA mobile device network to bring services together

Jennifer Carter, DISA’s component acquisition executive, on setting up a mobile device service that will support DOD classified and unclassified communications.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is in the process of setting up a mobile device service that will support both classified and unclassified communications across the Defense Department. Although there are many mobile device programs across the DOD, there is no overarching enterprise to connect the various services’ mobile efforts to a larger network. This new DISA program is designed to do so.

DISA already provides mobile device support across its enterprise, but the agency is now moving to create a DOD-level enterprise, said Jennifer Carter, DISA’s component acquisition executive. Making use of the existing enterprise is helpful because it provides DISA with three things: cost benefits, scale and security, and a common infrastructure across multiple agencies and services, she said.

DISA is working on a converged infrastructure to handle both classified and unclassified mobile communications. The agency is transitioning the classified part of its mobile enterprise over from the National Security Agency. To expand both classified and unclassified mobile communications across the DOD, Carter said DISA is working with the services to put the necessary infrastructure in place.

For the unclassified side of the system, DISA plans to include more capabilities to support a variety of mobile devices. Besides providing improved services at the base and facility level, it also would enable the services to switch to new devices more quickly. The processes to support classified mobile devices and communications will take more time to set up, she said.

There will also be a number of shared services across the DISA/DOD classified-unclassified mobile network, such as a common help-desk infrastructure. However, Carter noted that there would be a few differences on the classified side to provide additional security.

Phase 1 of the DISA mobile effort is to get an initial set of mobile devices out to the services. The agency also is partnering with the services, using accumulated feedback to push changes into the program’s follow-on phase.

For fiscal 2013, the program will support 5,000 unclassified and 1,500 classified devices on the shared network. As the program continues, additional devices such as tablets will be introduced, with device deployment distributed across several services, she said.

The service-level device deployments also represent the consolidation of several ongoing mobility programs, Carter said. The most important goal is to get more advanced capabilities out to users while providing support to multiple vendors and device manufacturers. The effort’s ultimate objective is to both expand wireless capabilities across the services and to replace existing infrastructure and equipment such as laptop computers and desktop phones, she noted.

In a presentation at a recent industry event, Carter outlined DISA’s mobility strategy. “The goal behind mobility is to establish an integrated infrastructure that can be leveraged to get the mobile device…to have the capabilities that the warfighter needs, to bring that capability to them [warfighters]—the information they need, the functionality that they need—right at their fingertips at the tactical edge,” she said.

DISA is in the middle of its procurement process for a mobile device management system and an applications store. The agency is working out how it will assess and certify the applications that will go into the store, Carter said. DISA information-assurance personnel are working on this process and are close to having it well defined, she added.

The agency also is working on an applications development environment. Carter said that the goal is for DISA to create a framework that will enable military personnel to develop and load apps within that structure. Under this model, the services will be responsible for developing the vetting process that will allow users to create their own applications building tools. One of the challenges will be to create a method to quickly approve application software, she said.

But while DISA is being deliberate in how it lays out its applications infrastructure, a more rapid approach is needed for security. Because the plan is for the services to port their users’ data to new devices, the system will have to follow a commercial cycle, which moves much faster than DOD acquisition processes.

DISA plans to develop a security requirements guide for industry, outlining the security needs of DISA and DOD. This will enable the agency to develop standards and guidelines so that commercial providers will have a compliance guide for their products. “It’s a different model that’s better suited to working with industry,” Carter said.

Providing effective security and user authentication is another concern for DISA’s new mobility program. The DOD currently uses common access (CAC) cards, with attachable slide readers, to provide user authentication when logging into department networks via mobile devices. But both DISA and the DOD want to move away from mobile device CAC card access, Carter said.

The DOD wants to move away from using CAC cards for accessing mobile devices because the cards require an additional device that can read them. This not only incurs extra costs, but also makes the process more cumbersome.

There are a variety of options available, many of them commercially available. Some examples include software certificates and SIM cards. The long-term goal is to evaluate and incorporate new user-identification technologies into the architecture as they are approved, she said.

In fiscal 2014, the mobile program will move from its initial phase to a subscription service rate that will allow DISA’s customers to pay for wireless use. This will be a per-user cost model. Because more users equate to lower overall costs, this enables the agency to build capacity at a defined rate. However, Carter cautioned that the mobile network is still a work in progress, and it remains to be seen how quickly the services will switch to it.

Some of the services are working on their own bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs and policies, but Carter noted that there are a number of legal and technical issues that remain to be worked out. DISA is tracking these BYOD programs, but it is not the agency’s primary focus for mobility, she said. However, DISA is making sure that its infrastructure will support and incorporate any BYOD programs that the services develop and approve. But Carter noted that it is not DISA’s role to set up such efforts. Its main goal is getting mobile devices to users in a rapid and timely manner.

Selecting the type of device will be up to the individual services and users, she said. The idea behind the DISA mobility program, as well as the DOD’s efforts, is to be device agnostic. DISA’s goal is to have a set of capabilities in place that will meet the specific needs of the services and users.

Additional Online Resources

DISA Five-Year Strategic Plan

Overview of DISA’s mobility plan