Push for unified capabilities is partly about 'one-stop shopping,' says Army CIO Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell. ()
The Defense Department is fleshing out plans to offer its military, civilian and contractor users a range of unified, everything-over-IP services to improve security, information-sharing and cost efficiency, according to DoD officials.
“Unified capabilities” is the umbrella term for the suite of services, which include classified and unclassified voice-over-IP communications, improved video conferencing and enhanced messaging among several software-based options. It’s part of an effort to move away from legacy, hardware-based systems, and closer in line with DoD’s Joint Information Enterprise – as well as the technologies most are used to using in their daily lives.
“What we have now, in any given office we have multiple phones, two computers…all we’re trying to do is make it easier for the user,” said Army CIO/G6 Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell. It’s about “having that capability for one-stop shopping for technology, whether voice or video, utilizing software at your fingertips.”
Ferrell is one of the keynote speakers at the C4ISR&Networks Conference , scheduled for May 5 and 6 in Crystal City.
The Army is one of multiple defense components, led by the Defense Information Systems Agency, involved in the first steps toward a more consolidated communications element that would be offered throughout DoD.
Last month the Army Program Executive Office – Enterprise Information Systems, working with DISA and the Air Force, released a request for information for commercially provided VoIP communications services. DoD officials are seeking unified communications as a service, or UCaaS, that would be purchased based on a per-user, per-month fee, and would provide integrated voice, video, instant messaging and chat, network presence and screen-sharing on approved devices, both on the classified SIPRNet and unclassified NIPRNet. The RFI also asks for solutions that could scale to as many as 5 million users in the long term, and that could deploy within six to nine months.
“DISA and its mission partners…are deploying infrastructure and exploring integration opportunities with commercially provided UC services to converge everything-over-IP services and enable DoD-wide migration away from more expensive, legacy, stovepipe telecommunications solutions,” said Martin Gross, DISA program executive officer for communications.
DISA officials additionally are moving forward to deliver UCaaS integrated with commercial cloud solutions, which would pair with existing DoD infrastructure and services. Information assurance, network operations and cybersecurity are all areas that would benefit, Gross noted.
“Pilot opportunities are currently being explored to assess the operational readiness and cost-effectiveness of solutions utilizing both government cloud and DoD private cloud environments as defined in the recently published DoD Enterprise Cloud Service Broker Cloud Security Model Version 2.0.1,” Gross said. He added that responses to the RFI, due March 28, “will be reviewed to assess alternatives and opportunities to deliver these services with the expectation that an RFP for select UC services/capabilities will be released by DISA later this year.”
In the Army, Ferrell said he’s expected a phased rollout for unified capabilities – like the service-wide deployment of enterprise e-mail over the past couple years. He said that he’s hopeful that the initial rollout phases will start in fiscal 2017, with the effort accomplished in fiscal 2018. The goal is a comprehensive, cohesive network that will offer the same capabilities to soldiers whether they’re stateside or deployed to the theater.
“How do we align the tactical network to provide services down to the edge without pushing all the hardware down there? How do we make it [simpler] for the operators to use? That’s one of our themes,” Ferrell said. “If you look at our current generation of soldiers, they grew up in IT. They’re the ones that are very comfortable with any kind of device. What we are trying to do with our technology is make it simpler and easier for them to navigate through.”