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'DISA first' initiative carries challenges

Dec. 3, 2013 - 01:46PM   |  

DISA is working through the challenges of testing and delivering enterprise services for the entire Defense Department.

As part of its five-year strategic plan, the Defense Information Systems Agency committed to being an early adopter of new Defense Department services. The “DISA first” initiative allows the agency to validate that new services like email meet DoD requirements, identify and resolve issues and show that new services are operationally feasible.

“I know the thing works,” Larry Klooster, vice principal director of DISA operations, said of services that are first tested by his agency. “Where I’m going to lose is capacity, and that’s the one I’ve got to worry about.”

Speaking at the Annual International Test and Evaluation Symposium in November, Klooster said DISA tests software products and new services among small user communities and then agencywide. But testing can only go so far in preparing the agency to handle accounts for massive amounts of users across DoD.

Take enterprise email, for example. Klooster said enterprise email had an extensive test plan prior to migrating Army email accounts to the new system, but the biggest problem was capacity.

“As the DISA team examined why developing to scale was so hard, we recognized that as impressive as the technology was, the technology wouldn’t get us there on its own,” DISA’s former vice director Rear Adm. David Simpson said in a September blog post.

DISA has since worked through that issue. In anticipation of millions more accounts migrating to enterprise email, DISA designed the service to support 4.5 million users.

“I think the testing environment has changed, at least for us,” Klooster said, noting that DoD is using more commercial products and modifying them where needed.

“We can no longer afford to have our own dedicated infrastructure,” said Capt. Susan BryerJoyner with U.S. Cyber Command. “We did it before, and it cost us a lot of money. So now, instead of building our own operating systems, building our own satellites, building our own platforms, we’re using a lot of commercial off the shelf.” While this brings efficiencies, government must also work with industry to understand any vulnerabilities, she said.

Commercial mobile devices is one such area of focus and where a lot of testing takes place, mostly for cybersecurity, Klooster said.

He stressed that DISA is looking for quick turnarounds, where technology is properly vetted and released to users. Klooster’s definition of success: “Walk out, they use it, and it works.”

“I’m not looking for a 100 percent solution,” he said. “I’m looking for quick testing. An 80 percent solution is fine.”

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