Defense Department, Other Federal Agencies

Lots of DISA puns are possible, but I refuse to cloud the issue.

Yes, I’ve been scarce lately. Getting paid by the word will do that to you. Last Friday, I attended the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Forecast to Industry, which is basically where all the vendors come to find out what DISA is looking to buy in the near future.

The big thing at DISA these days is the idea of turning itself into an on-demand IT services provider, where customers–the military services, the White House, and the intelligence community–can go to connect, collaborate, communicate and integrate. In other words, their strategy is to turn themselves into a giant private cloud computing provider for the national leadership, “warfighters” and the agencies that support them.

That vision is a long way off. Right now, DISA is just trying to get its customers to embrace the idea of standardized, virtualized servers that can be quickly (in a matter of minutes) provisioned, and let DISA host their common services, like email and human resources self-service applications, in a virtualized cloud of servers distributed across DISA’s data centers. And the agency is providing services like Forge.mil, a software collaboration environment (currently hosted on Navy servers, but about to be pulled into DISA’s Defense Enterprise Computing Centers on their virtualization platform, called RACE).

John Garing, DISA’s director of strategic planning, was former DISA director Charlie Croom’s CIO. He and DISA CTO Dave Mihelcic have been thinking a lot about the direction DISA needs to move in to serve DOD more quickly, and the model Garing has latched onto looks a lot like Salesforce.com — create a core set of application services that customers can use to get common tasks done (SOA, software-as-a-service, applications and servers on demand); give them a way to develop new services on top of that platform and quickly test, certify and deploy them (The FORGE.mil platform, which will soon include TestForge ), and get software vendors and integrators to build to the standardized environment to lower certification, testing and deployment costs, and allow customers to save by paying for just what they use.

“Forge is the embryo from where that’s going to grow,” Garing told me. “In the middle of june, we had the four services here, and went through all this stuff including Forge and RACE. Out of that session, Gen. Sorenson (the Army’s CIO and G6) asked us to provide those capabilities forward so that smart lieutenants in Afghanistan could use those tools.”

The “smart lieutenants” are the types of people who put together things like CAVNET, the collaborative website that the Army’s 1st Cavalry used to share ground truth in Iraq. By putting collaboration tools like FORGE.mil–which can potentially be used for a lot more than collaborative software development–within reach of officers in Afghanistan over a satcom link or in a command post at Bagram, for example, DISA could create the opportunity for grassroots, community creation of the next great thing to help save lives and speed the mission.

There’s just one problem with moving DOD to a virtualized cloud infrastructure– the current state of DOD IT is a giant cluster of purpose-bought systems, with point-to-point integration, and a whole raft of legacy operating systems and interfaces that would drive most IT manager to tears. The recent Navy Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services RFP, for example apparently asks for backward compatibility with everything back to DOS 3.2, according to one contractor familiar with it–because there are still systems in place that rely on software written with hooks for those legacy operating systems.

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