May 23, 2007

USA : Networking the Air Force

Networking the Air Force
By Mark Kellner
May 04, 2007

The U.S. Air Force, whose 800,000 online members make it one of the Defense Department’s largest information technology user communities, found itself at a crossroads: Would the service sign on to the Defense Knowledge Online (DKO) portal, which is supposed to span all the services, or go it alone?
In January, the service’s chief information officer, Lt. Gen. Michael Peterson, answered the question: no to DKO, at least for a while. Instead, they’ll try to get the services to negotiate something larger and better to cover everyone.
The news was a bit of a surprise in the community, and Peterson, who has been the service’s CIO and chief of warfare integration since November 2005, explained it with simple logic against the background of his orders to do more with less as the Air Force faces the demands of the war on terrorism, the campaign in Iraq and attempts to buy new aircraft and other technology.

QJohn Young, the Pentagon’s director of defense research and engineering, said that new fighters might not be able to pass information to ground forces. How do you bridge the gap?

AWe have a program of record called an “Objective Gateway,” that will translate those new systems with legacy systems and also tie you back into the Global Information Grid, through a router/ server and a link back to the Internet protocol environment.
I think John Young’s concern is, “Will that gateway be there?” I’ve spoken with him indirectly and not one-on-one. That’s why we turned our Objective Gateway program into a program of record, to ensure it was there. The initial elements of that — right now, we’re building a test platform down at Patuxent Naval Air Station [in Maryland], that’s the folks that had the capability to take our payload and integrate it into a test bird. We’ve leased a Gulfstream to fly it out for the time being. We’ve flown it earlier on a NASA weather platform, WB-57.

Q How do you assure information access and availability?
AOur networks are attacked every day. If you look at the way the Air Force built out its networks, it began that you could move data or e-mail around a building, and then you connected a couple of buildings, and then you built a local area network on a campus or a base, and the next thing you know, we were linking bases together.
Well, important servers that we needed to do business with the outside world are often installed on a particular base, whether it was at the Air Force Personnel Center or the Air Force Engineering and Services Center, or you pick. So now, the NIPERNET has grown up in that environment, and to get to that public information that we intend the public to see, you’ve got to traverse much of our network that no one should be on.
So, we’ve already started doing it — all of that public content that we have to use to do business with the public, we’re going to move to what we call a “demilitarized zone” out at the edge. And then we will not allow you to traverse our networks to get to that information.
The other thing is, if you do need to get into our network because you’re an appropriate user, it’s your credentials, it’s identity management.
Most everybody in the past relied on user name and password, and you know we’ve gone to a PKI — public-key infrastructure — solution, and even coming in from the outside now, in most cases it will be your Common Access Card. But there are people that not only require a Common Access Card for them to be on the network, but they may also be serving as the director of combat ops on the floor of the Combined Aerospace Operations Center, and they’re going to need another token to serve in that role. So, there’s the PKI that really cuts down on the opportunity to steal identity.

QWill Cyberspace Command have a four-star commander?
AIt depends on the size of the force.
If Cyberspace Command evolved in size to the size of an Air Mobility Command or an Air Combat Command or an Air Force Space Command with many tens of thousands of people, I’d say a four-star was appropriate.

QIs a single DoD Web portal necessary?
AIt depends on where you are in implementation of your technical architecture. If you have not done the work of exposing data, creating a metadata environment, publishing services, publishing the tools and capabilities so you can find out, discover, services that are out there ... generally you have to go through a single portal to make it easy and convenient.
All of the great work that the Army did with Army Knowledge Online, we want to ... use and benefit from all the work they did.

Q What are your next steps for the Air Force Web portal?
AWell, the business case is, continue to build out the Air Force portal as it is currently architected. And it’s really a good-news story in terms of providing a framework on which we host applications at a much lower cost than hosting them individually.
The other thing we’ve done that gets to this service-oriented architecture, we’re going down a path of data transparency. And this started with our finance community, where we could do what is known as a “clean audit.” That is an audit where there is transparency in the data, there’s a published set of rules and processes that you can follow, and when you go back and do the audit, you can see where the data came from, you can see the process we followed, the algorithms we used, and then, now that I’ve done it once, I can do it over and over again.

Q You mentioned doing more with less, like the rest of the Air Force.
A Yeah, but I’ve got a plan. Honestly. That is one of the great things about the information technology business. Unlike maybe some other areas, industry has just been wonderful in inventing better, easier, smarter, more affordable means of doing the same amount of work, and such that you can even get more bang for the buck at less cost.
It amazes me how powerful the tools are that industry keeps handing me. I told you about the standard desktop configuration. Because we’re going to that, I actually thought it was going to cost us more to standardize. The licenses were less, the security increased and it drove the touch maintenance, or manpower required to sustain the network, down by about 40 percent, and it may be more when we learn how to operate in that new environment.

Q How do the users like it?
AThey don’t even know we’ve changed. They put the standard desktop configuration on my computer. I didn’t know. There’s been one, not a drawback, but a challenge with standard desktop configuration: A number of the applications that we have out there today, anytime you’re going to patch them or make an adjustment requires hands-on maintenance; you must go to the machine and do the work. But literally, in 99 percent of the cases, any changes that have to be made are very straightforward, very simple and not costly. In a handful, there’s a little more work to be done.

Q How much money are you saving?
A There are two terms, savings and cost-avoidance. I can’t give you the manpower numbers yet, because all I can do is account for the manpower in network services delivery, which is about 5,000 manpower billets there. But we know that relying on information technology has allowed personnel services delivery to reduce the manning by 1,500; accounting and finance over the pay window, by about 500. I don’t have the exact numbers in logistics, but thousands more — and this was how we intended to pay for a lot of the 40,000 manpower reduction that we took, was we knew that automated tools and practices would help.

But on the dollar side, the cost avoidance over the fiscal year’s defense plan approaches $8 billion. So the cost avoidance was staggering. I thought the guys had made a mistake when they showed me the number the first time.
Q How much is the existence of open and often free systems such as Linux influencing your thinking?
AThe thing that we’re more interested in is the open and commonly used standards. So when I exchange data, I use a particular standard that everyone uses.
In terms of Linux, Windows, Solaris, you’ll find a lot of Solaris in our intelligence and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, and it’s because that’s where the work was done. You’ll find Windows because we migrated there, and there are so many applications that run seamlessly on it. You’ll find Linux comes, we use it, but not as widely. And you say it’s free, but you still have to sustain the systems and have expert help in understanding how to run the networks based on that. So, the real cost is in the owning and the sustainment costs of those systems. Because we buy in bulk, the license cost is appreciable, but it’s not the cost driver. •

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