Under pressure to cut costs, in house efforts to beef up security are showing cost savings

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is charged with maintaining the networks used by the U.S. Department of Defense and its warfighters.  Given the 1.43m+ soldiers and 850k+ reserve personnel, this means managing a network of approximately 2.2m users -- a challenge with no equivalent in the private sector.

I. Cutting Costs With the Cloud, Consolidation

Under pressure over recent disclosures of wasteful spending and pressure on a federal level from budget cuts, the DISA laid out its progress on a plan to cut costs.  Delivering a speech at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association cyber symposium at the Baltimore Convention Center, Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr. spoke [press release] on these efforts.

In his speech, Hawkins said that in the past the government sought to protect its networks and the data house within via a firewalling approach, isolating services from each other, isolating agencies from each other, and even isolating units within a specific agency (like the DISA itself) from each other.  This approach ultimately was a dead end, he says, as it cripples the DoD's ability to freely pass data by the DISA, U.S. National Security AgencyU.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), and the remaining branches of the armed forces.

Gen. Hawkins
Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr.

Gen. Hawkins remarks, "We've got to remove those and … go toward protecting the data … in a way that … whether you’re on a unclassified or classified network, we can move that data and get it to the right user at the right time, dependent upon their credentials and need to know."

The retooling of the U.S. military's digital presence starts with bringing services typically handled separately among the different branches of the armed forces, or handled by private contractors, into a single streamlined in-house solution.  The next step is to move this solution securely into the cloud, to leverage the private sector to cut hosting costs.

Cloud computing
"To the cloud!" -- the DOD is looking to the cloude for cost savings. [Image Source: Microsoft]

In the speech, so-called "Ethernet-over-internet" is discussed -- secure DISA-developed protocols and applications such as integrated voice data and video applications.  DISA is rumored to be working with, Inc. (AMZN) on a cloud-hosting contract potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  Gen. Hawkins hints at this stating, "We have met with many industry partners and are teaming with them on how [to] build the algorithms [for] cloud broker capability."

That should help cut the costs for DISA, who currently maintains 194 data centers, globally.  Under the current plan many of those data centers would be consolidated or eliminated, thanks to the public cloud and better use of virtualization technology.  Gen. Hawkins has high hopes that the merger of many of the services can be complete by July.

II. DISA Cheered by Savings From Email, Smartphone Efforts

He points to the nearly finished rollout of a DoD-wide enterprise-level email solution, commenting, "We’re working … to make sure that we meet the requirements to put enterprise email – both secure and [unclassified] -- out to every [troop] wherever they may be."

The effort -- led by the Army -- has reportedly led to millions of dollars in cost savings over expensive solutions from private contractors and disjointed redundant in-house solutions that were previously used.

Similarly, the armed forces are working to establish a consistent network of secured smartphones and supporting services for soldiers.  Gen. Hawkins describes this "disruptive" mobile push, commenting, "[The smartphone is] a game-changer for how we’ve been moving information.  It’s one of those devices that the digital natives moving into the Department of Defense are looking for … to be able to do their job.  [We're] making sure that we can get the information to the soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman, wherever it is they might be … and [it will] change the way we do business on a daily basis."

U.S. Soldiers
Email and smartphone rollouts to soldiers have gone well, thus far. [Image Source: U.S. Army]

With such lofty, integrated solutions goals comes concern.  The U.S. Air Force (USAF) revealed late last year that it was shuttering a $1B USD unified data project after it failed to meet milestones.  USAF was left in a bind, as it needed that project for an audit, and to prevent millions a year in wasted spending on unneeded parts.

It's worth noting, though, that the failed USAF project relied most on contractors like Oracle Corp. (ORCL) and Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) who were paid hundreds of millions, but delivered precious little.  Perhaps DISA's in-house efforts will be more fruitful -- the taxpayers can always hope.

Sources: Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association cyber symposium, U.S. Department of Defense

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