The Defense Department has spent the past several years building the blueprint for what it says will eventually become a single, standards-based IT environment that will be jointly operated and shared among the military services. By the end of this year, the department thinks it will have the initial technical specifications for that environment fully down on paper.
The technical standards for the Joint Information Environment (JIE) fall within the purview of DoD’s Joint Technical Synchronization Office, housed at the Defense Information Systems Agency. The integrated design teams the JTSO leads with help from across the military services and agencies has now received approval from the DoD CIO’s office for 42 percent of JIE’s initial technical baseline, and another 50 percent are ready for approval, said Brig. Gen. Brian Dravis, the JTSO’s director.
“We’re marching toward an end state solution or baseline, and there are cynics out there who say you can never really design this thing given the rate of change in the IT mission space,” Dravis said at this month’s JIE Mission Partner Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland. “We understand that, and we reflect that in our documents. One of the many challenges we face in the JTSO is putting together architectures and engineering designs that are neither overly prescriptive nor excessively restrictive. Then you bring in all of the different combatant command and service- based operational requirements and you can see how a simple cube gets morphed into something that’s multidimensional and complex and looks like it’s hard to produce and defend. But we’re making progress, and it is my goal to get our solution designs and architectures to a block one release by the end of the calendar year. That’s a hard task.”
But it’s been made easier by the fact that some military organizations are already beginning to move the concept of joint IT from theory to practice, Dravis said. The biggest example to date is the Army and Air Force’s agreement to share money and technical expertise for an overhaul of their U.S.-based networks, using multiprotocol label switching routers and a new system of shared Joint Regional Security Stacks.
“They are literally doing the iron on the ground piece that’s so meaningful in the advancement of the JIE initiative, and we also owe a lot of thanks to all of the folks that surged to the JTSO to put together the integrated design teams,” he said. “One of the challenges though is it’s so big at times that it’s like trying to crowdsource an engineering design. You can imagine what it’s like when you’re trying to arbitrate between 150 engineers who all have very firm opinions. But we’ve adjudicated more than 5,000 comments so far, with many more to follow. We’re making good progress.”
Besides the building of faster connection points and a more manageable security architecture in the U.S., the other major accomplishment of the JIE effort so far has been the standup of a jointly-operated Enterprise Operation Center (EOC) in Europe, designed to manage shared IT operations for all of U.S. European Command. U.S. Pacific Command is the next focus area.
DoD initially described the Europe activities as “increment one” of JIE and the Pacific theater as the second iteration. But Dave Stickley, the director of DISA’s JIE implementation office, said the department has since moved away from the idea of thinking of JIE in “increments.”
“Because much of the capability we’re rolling out is truly global,” he said. “The EOC doesn’t stand alone. The network capability that supports it has been ongoing for a couple years under an agreement with the Army to take over fiber optic cables and installing routers across Europe. We’ve got seven bases coming online within the next 30 to 60 days, we’ve built up a core data center in Europe, and our Stuttgart facility has been virtually expanded into Wiesbaden. We are putting JIE capabilities on the ground.”
Besides technical challenges in implementing JIE, DoD officials frequently point to cultural ones.
Since, by definition, moving certain aspects of IT to an enterprise level means removing the control that thousands of local IT providers currently wield over their own local systems, there has been considerable resistance, said Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, the Joint Staff’s director for command, control, communications and computers.
“You don’t need to control it all,” he said. “We need to let people know that their interests are our interests. Being out there in the field and being told you’re not going to run something and control it is frustrating to the guy on the ground, it’s frustrating the to the commander, but it works.”
Bowman, who is one of a handful of officials who make up JIE’s senior governing body, said the Joint Staff is trying to lead by example by using joint IT services. Right now, he said, the Pentagon itself is a prime example of IT overlap and duplication, with many organizations running the same IT services within the same building.
“We’re trying to change that and create a ‘Joint Base Pentagon,'” he said. “We’re looking at stuff that we do on the Joint Staff that’s not our core competency. We don’t need to run our own email servers, so we get email as a service from DISA now. We don’t need to have our own information assurance stacks either, so the Information Technology Agency in the Pentagon runs ’em now. If I’m running data through my stacks and then through their stacks and then out of the building, all I’m doing is constricting myself, so we shut ours down. That was a cultural event for some of the people in my office, but we ought to be looking at this through a lens that says, ‘This is secure enough. If it passed the information assurance tests, then let’s do it.'”
As the Joint Staff pushes for more joint IT within the Pentagon, it’s helpful that no less a figure than Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has taken a keen interest in cyber issues in general, and JIE in particular.
According to Bowman, Dempsey himself regularly presses him on issues like thin client — something the Joint Staff has just begun to roll out, and which it’s proselyting other Pentagon tenants to begin adopting.
The Joint Staff began the thin client project in two other locations where its staff is concentrated: Eglin Air Force Base and Suffolk, Va. In Suffolk, roughly 90 percent of its users are now using much cheaper — and arguably more secure — thin client machines instead of full-blown desktop PCs.
In the Pentagon, the project has converted a little more than 20 percent of desktop PCs so far, but Bowman said he’s aiming to turn the rest of the headquarters into thin client users soon.
“We would be done with the project in the Pentagon if we had decided to do it ourselves,” he said. “But we decided, instead, to build an architecture along with ITA so that the military services could join us. Nobody’s holding a gun to our head and telling us to get it done quickly, but it would be irresponsible not to do it that way. We’re going to get it done right, and then everybody’s going to be able to join. The Marines are piloting off of it, the Army’s piloting off of it, and that’s the way we need to work together.”