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The future of DoD networks

Feb. 26, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
Cindy Moran
Cindy Moran ()
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As Director of Network Services, Cindy Moran runs the sustainment arm of the Defense Departmentís networks.

Think of her organization as a service provider , much like AT&T, Century Link or Sprint, but for the Defense Information Systems Agency and the broader Defense Department. ďWe do very similar things in my organization when it comes to sustaining the infrastructure,Ē said Moran. That includes implementing, sustaining and evolving GIG networks and providing voice, video and data network solutions.

Her previous roles include chief of the Center for Network Services, and deputy chief information officer and vice director for strategic planning and information. She spoke to C4ISR & Networks staff writer Nicole Blake Johnson about DoD satellite communications and unified capabilities.

DODís need for satellite communications bandwidth is expected to increase 68 percent by 2023. What is driving that demand and how are you responding?

Itís being driven by mission, predominantly. So, commercial satellite bandwidth we order on the spot, based on what the subscriber or the customer needs to get their mission done. Right now, today, where we base that significant growth on are really a couple of things. ISR and the tools that are used to move that data, a lot of that is done over satellite because itís at remote locations or different types of customer locations that need to have that data. So, we see a huge growth there.

A lot of it is as we centralize services and capabilities and weíre not so regionally dispersed, the need to move large amounts of data around the globe is constantly increasing. So, the fewer people you have somewhere, the more bandwidth you need. In many places the only way that we can get to those locations is with satellite. Africa is a really good example of that. Even if we are just talking humanitarian or other efforts, there are places like Africa where there is very little infrastructure actually on the continent, in the ground that would be the kind of fiber optic cable running across the continent. There is a lot of wireless and satellite and other capabilities, but itís not the kind of traditional big telco kinds of capability weíre used to. So, as we do more and more in those kinds of environments, we are seeing more of a reliance on satellite.

Weíre trying to use the bandwidth we have more efficiently. By that, I mean, that we are trying to move into an IP environment for our satellite circuits instead of a point-to-point because then we can allow more users to share a segment of a piece of bandwidth than having to get each user their own individual segment. That doesnít work for all users, but the more IP we can put into the base band, the more IP modems we can use across those satellite links the more efficiently we can use the available bandwidth to provide as much as possible to all the customers of the department.

What is the status of rolling out capabilities over IP and unified communications?

So, this is where we start to cross over between mine and the component acquisitions. Weíre on track with rolling everything out over IP. One of our biggest challenges in actually getting to the end-state is making sure that the end-user is ready to take the IP service that we can provide across the network. So, in many cases, I have IP-enabled capabilities available today, and we are working with the users to make sure that they have the infrastructure. So, just an example would be if I have an IP-enabled backbone, and the end user still has a rotary dial telephone in their office that IP is not going to be very helpful to them.

We are in the process of making sure that all of the certification and accreditations are done, that the infrastructure is in place, and that the end users are updating their equipment so that it all comes together to create efficiencies for the department.

What is the timeframe for rolling out unified capabilities?

Some of that is tied up in the acquisition sensitive parts. I will tell you that we have the infrastructure available for most of the war fighters in most locations today, although we are constantly doing things to optimize that infrastructure. We are working on some things as stopgap measures to get us through to UC, and the UC part is where we get into some of the acquisition sensitive pieces. We are rolling out voice over IP, and video over IP and chat. Weíve got some of those today. Weíre rolling more out. Those will help migrate us to an entirely UC platform.

The UC platform, there are a couple of things that are going to happen in FY14, planed RFPs and things, that will get us to the totally integrated platform. There will be an RFI for a joint unified capabilities soft client and industry day in March. There will be a pilot for unified capabilities as a service sometime this year. Then there will be a joint unified capability soft client sometime in FY15. So, if I put a soft phone client out today just as a voice-over IP telephone, then that feeds into the UC. Itís foundational to the UC support of the future.

In my organization, thatís predominantly what we do in these areas. I do the foundational pieces. I do the service-as-a-platform piece that allows these applications and capabilities to roll in on top of an infrastructure that is then there, ready for them to use at the customer end and at the enterprise end so that we can leverage market solutions quickly for the war fighter.

How does DISA envision users taking advantage of this capabilities and how do these enhancements differ from what is offered today?

In some cases, itís a new service for customers who are in traditional buildings that havenít been redone. So use DISA headquarters as an example. In our old buildings before we moved to Ft. Meade and consolidated campuses, some of our buildings had legacy telephony, old fashion PBXs [private branch exchange] and things. Some of our buildings had voice over IP. It depended on when those buildings were occupied, and whether theyíd been updated. When we moved to the campus here at Ft. Meade, everything is voice over IP, video over IP, and it is entirely IP capable because the new campus was able to provide that as part of the move up here.

With the major effort for BRAC that happened three or four years ago, many, many buildings in the department are now IP capable that werenít before, but if I go into other buildings that have been there for a very long time they may or may not have been upgraded yet. Itís getting those facilities upgraded so that we can provide an end-to-end service across the department where some of the challenges are, but we also know that over time all of those buildings will be upgraded and then the department will be able to achieve the efficiencies that having and end-to-end voice or video over IP solution or an integrated UC solution will help them get those efficiencies, not just in financials but in productivity as well.

When you talk about unified capabilities, how does that apply to the person in the field?

Well, in the field we still have buildings in fixed locations that they participate in. So, it would be the same whether youíre in Korea, Afghanistan, Germany or here. We would provide the same service. Where youíre going to see the unified capabilities, the voice, the video and everything over IP really come together is truly on the mobility front. So, one of our number one initiatives for how we provide that service, again I would still provide the infrastructure that moves those services around the world, is in the development of our mobility programs and the unified capabilities tool sets or clients, that ability to leverage those mobile platforms.

Legacy technologies, ISDN circuits for example, itís not an IP circuit. Itís a legacy TDM kind of a circuit. Now that weíve got enough video IP in the network, weíre trying very hard to drive all of the legacy ISDN out of our networks in the next 12 to 24 months. That would be a cost savings, and it will make everything over IP. So we will provide better service, better quality at more savings, and weíll eliminate a legacy technology.

Is DISA marketing these cost savings to it users?

I donít know that I would use the term marketing. Itís about providing more capability. The analogy that I always use when I do a speech out in industry is I had one of the first cell phones that ever existed, and I think I paid like $35 a month for it. It didnít do very much for me, but it was a cell phone. Every couple of years I would change my phone, and I would still have that $35 a month plan, but the phone started to do more. I could text with it. I could take pictures with it. I could do speakerphone with it, lots of different things for that same $35. Even though I felt like I was saving money, it was still $35 for the phone.

A lot of what weíre providing in this environment isnít so much that Iím going to be able to save trillions of dollars by putting out new capabilities, but I will be able to use what we are already paying for much more efficiently and provide significantly more capabilities across that same infrastructure, for the same dollar and hopefully less. Our goal is to drive cost out, but the big advantage to the customer is to be able to get more capability.

What is your role in fulfilling the vision of the Joint Information Environment?

I look at my role as being the layer of the foundation. So, the network normalization that weíre doing now, making sure that there is consistent standards, consistent interfaces and consistent amounts of bandwidth. You would hate to be on a super highway and all of the sudden be bandwidth constrained. The work that Iím doing now and have been doing for the last couple of years we believe is very foundational to the JIE program because as JIE starts collapsing those infrastructures and capabilities and applications into this joint information environment, having the plumbing to make sure that all those capabilities work is very critical. That really is what my directorate does is we build that framework that all of these capabilities will fall in on top of.

How has the budget environment impacted your efforts and decision making?

The full-year spending bill is great for us because it allows us to plan in larger chunks so that we can get a preponderance of our work done. I would say that where we are is because what weíre doing is so core to the organizations being able to move out with JIE and some other things that what it really has done for us in some of our budget constraint world is it has made us look harder at how we are as efficient as absolutely possible in this environment, how we move forward quickly so that the end user or subscriber can get the biggest advantage out of the infrastructure as possible, as quickly as possible.

We have not had to stop anybodyís requirement or re-scope a requirement, yet. It is always possible weíll get there, but we have had to reprioritize some of our implementations and stretch others out based on urgency, need and requirements, and where we can get the most done for the dollars that we have.

How large is your budget?

When you combine it all, I want to say $2.5 to $3 billion a year, but that is customer revenue. Some of that is passed through as well because we lease all the circuits for the Department of Defense. When I give you that big number, some of that is commercial satellite that we lease for somebody else. Some of the money may just be a pass through. Itís not necessarily in my budget to spend on DISA infrastructure, but I still have the responsibility for making sure that the contracts are in place to execute it that the customerís money gets from where they want it to be through the engineered solution that it needs to be to the vendor.

What will Global Information Grid networks look like five to 10 years from now, and what technologies and capabilities should the private sector be working on today to make that long-term evolution possible?

I think itís going to look like any other carrier. Over the past 20 some years since Iíve been working in this, the government has gotten more and more in the image of the commercial carriers, and we are world class at that. We do that very, very well. I think youíre going to see us even closer to that model. I think that from an industry perspective that what industry is doing for themselves to be more efficient, provide more bandwidth is the exact same type of things that youíre going to see us doing. I wouldnít think they would need to do anything special to support us as much as continue to encourage us to participate with them. Industry has been a very good partner in my mission space, and as long as we continue to have that great partnership with industry where they let us learn from them and we work together on requirements definition and how to best provide those requirements, I canít think of anything special. Theyíre already really helping us, and I donít anticipate they would change.

Are there any other RFPs or RFIs industry should be looking for this fiscal year?

There is another weíre working on and I donít know that it will come out this fiscal year, but that would be our global network services. I know weíre on track with that. I expect a lot of work to go there and a lot of industry engagement. Whether we will actually get to RFP this year or not, I donít know, but that is a big one in my world that is in the works and will be very important to us working with industry to get the best transport and circuit capability across the globe.

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