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Army to move e-mail accounts to DISA cloud

Jan. 7, 2011 - 03:08PM   |  
By JOE GOULD   |   Comments
As with Gmail or other Web-based e-mail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo mail, Army users would access their e-mail, not at a local server but in several of DISA's servers.
As with Gmail or other Web-based e-mail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo mail, Army users would access their e-mail, not at a local server but in several of DISA's servers. (U.S. Army)

The Army plans to move its e-mail service to a cloud computing environment and provide soldiers with a single e-mail account and network identity at their posts and while deployed.

The service is migrating 1.6 million e-mail and calendar accounts on Army Microsoft Exchange from its local servers, scattered around the world, to a unified cloud computing environment managed by the Defense Information Systems Agency.

"You should have one e-mail address your whole Army career," said Mike Krieger, acting chief information officer. "No matter where you are in the Army, that e-mail address will follow you. And if you go joint, and you get a new e-mail address, you'll be able to forward to it, and you won't have to change your e-mail address."

As with Gmail or other Web-based e-mail services such as Hotmail and Yahoo mail, Army users would access their e-mail, not at a local server but in several of DISA's servers. Microsoft Office products, such as PowerPoint, Word and Excel, would remain on local computers.

Krieger said, for example, that when Maj. Gen. Rhett Hernandez assumed command of Army Forces Cyber, forwarding his contacts and files from his previous command was "a miserable experience."

Such headaches will be a thing of the past, Krieger said. "Once we go to the DISA cloud, all that stuff's stored on the DISA cloud," he said. "When I move, I just take all my files and contacts with me."

But that's not all, according to Krieger. The service is working with DISA to move the popular Microsoft SharePoint collaboration program into the cloud.

The Army, as it moves onto DISA's servers, is consolidating its data centers and collapsing the security boundaries, called "forests," that exist between these centers, sometimes several times within a single post. One effect is that soldiers will no longer need to seek permission through systems administrators to share data, as they often do now, Krieger said.

Microsoft SharePoint, a widely used suite of collaborative business tools often limited by these security boundaries, will be easier to use between installations, agencies and services once it is added to the DISA cloud, as the Army intends, Krieger said.

"All of a sudden, everyone's available to get access to data," Krieger said, "I want the security boundary to be around the Army," as opposed to within the service.

Training and Doctrine Command recently validated a new set of requirements for an enterprise SharePoint service, and the Army is preparing to negotiate with DISA over how to implement it.

Those requirements also contain a content management, search and archiving solution for sharing documents, Krieger said. The idea is that deployed forces would now be able to dump their documents into SharePoint, share them and use them to work together.

The new arrangement will be more secure because spam filtering will be consolidated at DISA, and because there will be fewer system administrators for the Army to watch over, Krieger said. "Fewer admins means fewer points of entry."

The Army aims to partition off access to Army Knowledge Online and 600 Army applications, making them accessible only through the use of military-issued Common Access Cards. Considered "for official use only," these will no longer be available to friends, family and retirees, who are not typically issued CACs.

DISA will, in fiscal 2012, provide the Army with a "single sign-on" service, now provided by Army Knowledge Online, to those applications, Krieger said. Though it already offers such a service, DISA must first prove its ability to provide e-mail, he said.

"We're going to take the 600 [Army] applications that are currently using the AKO single sign-on, and we're probably going to repoint them through the DISA single sign-on," he said. "[DISA] put in a solution that gets two-thirds of what you want for single sign-on, but we told them go get e-mail working first, and we'll come back at you."

Army leaders have said the DISA arrangement will save the Army more than $100 million in fiscal 2012 and beyond. The enterprise service agreement with DISA is expected to reduce costs associated with server maintenance and going from paying $100 to $39 per user each year.

Among other impacts for soldiers, many will see their e-mail storage space grow from 200 megabytes to 4 gigabytes, Krieger said.

Through the arrangement with DISA, the Army would upgrade Microsoft Exchange products e-mail, calendar, contacts and tasks from the 2003 version in use at most Army installations to the 2010 version. Future upgrades, Kreiger said, will also be much easier.

Microsoft has agreed to alter its Exchange software so that it could only be accessed using a CAC, which will take effect with the upgrade, Krieger said.

Also, instead of being bound to local computers, soldiers will be able to log in on any computer with a CAC reader, and that CAC card will allow users to be distinguished as military, civilian or as contractors.

The Army is exploring the use of software that would remotely check non-DoD-issued computers as they access secure Army networks to determine whether those computers are secure, Krieger said.

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