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Air Force Research Laboratory improves networks

James Sumpter from the Air Force Research Laboratory said that AFRL is focusing on supporting current networks, including legacy and isolated enclave ones.

The Air Force Research Laboratory has a mission for researching, developing and innovating technologies that are ultimately delivered to the warfighter in the Air Force and Space Force. Currently, AFRL is focusing heavily on its space mission with the establishment of the Space Force.

One area AFRL is focusing on is supporting current networks, including legacy and isolated enclave ones.

“We don’t have the desired level of visibility, really, into our entire infrastructure, our information systems portfolio that we would like to have,” said James Sumpter, the chief enterprise architect for AFRL, on Federal Monthly Insights – Infrastructure Evolution. “We have a mission that is underway, and a lot of amazing folks that are working on that mission from a day-to-day basis. But I think most of them across the lab would tell you that there’s certainly room for improvement with our infrastructure and information systems starting at our network levels.”

To improve visibility while bearing in mind privacy and security concerns, AFRL is working with the private sector. Sumpter said that the Defense Department has unique needs in the area of privacy and security. He said that AFRL is seeking generalists who can adapt commercially available technology to secure information at different classification levels.

Sumpter said that the Air Force Research Laboratory is working directly with cloud service providers — as well as other companies — to bring their best technical solution architectures to what AFRL is building.

“We’re working directly with teams with Microsoft, with Amazon, with Google — just to name the three big ones — but others as well, cybersecurity firms and so forth,” Sumpter said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin. “And they are helping us architect and develop and implement those solutions at the different impact levels.”

The move to the cloud is more important now because of the prominence of hybrid work, said Sumpter.

“Just like the private sector, a lot of changes have come about in the last couple of years, and some of them have been for the better,” Sumpter said. “And in terms of driving the recognition that we need increased, and better remote access to support a lot of the hybrid work that we can do right now, that actually accelerates our mission to allow folks to have that flexibility to work from different areas. But we want their user experience to be great no matter where they’re working, and where they are contributing to the mission.”

The innovations happening in the networking space will not only improve security and privacy, but they will also improve the culture at the Air Force, according to Sumpter.

“This is a really exciting opportunity, I think, where we have great alignment between people, processes and technology, in terms of them all being ready. And at a state where digital transformation is possible within the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the broader Air Force,” said Sumpter. “We’re excited to bring digital transformation. And all of that means across those three areas: across our culture and our workforce, across our processes and improving them, adding in automation, doing more with our data and understanding more about our data and using that to inform improved processes and working towards the future.”

Sumpter also said that AFRL needs to be positioned to constantly adapt to new technologies popping up in the commercial sector.

The move to the cloud doesn’t mean that physical network infrastructure on-premises is out, however. Sumpter said that his team is developing an architecture for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s physical networks.

“We recognize that in many cases, again, because of acquisition cycles, and just the difficulties of laying in, for instance, new physical fiber connections, and so forth, we’ll do that in a number of use cases where it’s appropriate or where it’s available for us to maybe leverage some things that are there and not perhaps being fully used,” he said. “But we’re very excited about the 5G capabilities that are coming to bases across the country and leveraging that. And within the buildings, leveraging the  latest Wi-Fi type capabilities as well.”


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