Army’s AKO portal lives on; officials debut new office to buy cyber tools

Rumors of the death of Army Knowledge Online — the web portal soldiers and Army civilians have used for everything from training to email since the 1990s — ...

Rumors of the death of Army Knowledge Online — the web portal soldiers and Army civilians have used for everything from training to email since the 1990s — were evidently premature.

The Army has settled on a long-term vision that will keep at least some key AKO functions alive for the foreseeable future. That’s after officials shut down its email and collaboration services last year following the move to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Enterprise Email and Defense Online Portal Service.

Tom Neff, the project director for enterprise services in the Army’s program executive office for enterprise information systems, said officials are mapping out a strategy that would continue to use AKO as a place where soldiers can dump their files, access various online training materials and sign onto various Army websites that aren’t visible to the public.

“There’s still a suite of over 600 Army systems that use AKO for single sign-on, and the guidance from the CIO is to break that out from the portal capability to it’s a standalone service that provides equivalent or better identity and access management ,” Neff told my colleague Jason Miller at an AFCEA small business event Friday. “We’re going to leverage what DISA already has in place, and that architecture has already been built and largely delivered.”

Neff estimated the Army will save $3.7 million per year just by modernizing AKO’s single sign-on infrastructure, which lets users sign onto websites with either their common access cards or a username and a password.

Next, PEO-EIS is planning upgrades to AKO’s file storage capabilities, which are mainly used by soldiers who haven’t been assigned their own computer and need to be able to securely access their files from anywhere.

“We see that as an enduring use in the Army, but not at the ‘five nines’ of reliability we used to require of AKO,” Neff said. “We’ve replaced very high-end storage with commodity storage-as-a-service, saving millions of dollars and providing very similar service but without dedicated hardware. Then, we need to refresh the look and feel of the portal. It’s gotten aged, and there’s a lot of great commercial software out there that can provide better looking and better-operating capability at a lower cost than what we’re paying today.”

Once the upgraded functions are fully up and running and all users are migrated, a possibility exists that the AKO “brand” could eventually disappear, but Neff said no final decisions have been made.

Separately, PEO-EIS officials said Nov. 4 that the IT acquisition organization is in the midst of standing up a new program office and program of record that will deal exclusively in the procurement of defensive cyber tools, centralizing a task that’s currently spread across numerous posts, camps and stations in a somewhat uncoordinated fashion.

“It’s designed to deploy tools and an infrastructure to defend the network and do some forensic operations and analysis to identify trends and catch the bad guys,” said Ralph Ocasio, the deputy program manager for installation information infrastructure communications and capabilities. “It’s not so much for offensive operations, but that first line of defense across the network.”

The Army will appoint a new program manager for the office, Defensive Cyberspace Operations, by the end of November. Its main customer, Army Cyber Command, is expected to submit its first full package of requirements by the second quarter of fiscal 2017, and the office should be fully up and running by the third quarter.

“Up until now, it’s been kind of a hodgepodge from an acquisition perspective: the cyber protection teams would go out to industry and acquire them through small contracts based on sales pitches,” Ocasio said. “Under a program of record, we’ll be able to put a hold on that and formalize that process. At the same time, we hope to break some of the impediments involved in buying cyber capabilities rapidly, but we’re still developing the acquisition strategy and it’s very early stages.”

One last bit of PEO-EIS news: The Army announced last week that the office will soon be led by Brig. Gen. Patrick Burden, who is currently the Army’s deputy program executive officer for ammunition. He’s set to formally take responsibility as the new PEO on Nov. 29.

His appointment is a departure from recent practice: for years, PEO-EIS has been led by a series of civilian senior executives, including most recently Terry Watson, who has been the acting PEO since last November when Doug Wiltsie left the office to become the Army’s director of system of systems integration and engineering and later the director of the new Army Rapid Capabilities Office.

Burden served in PEO-EIS earlier in his career, including as the project manager for the General Fund Enterprise Business System (GFEBS) and for what’s now called the Automated Movement and Identification Solutions program.

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