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3/10/2010
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Army Plans Massive E-mail Consolidation

The multi-year, $243 million project is part of a larger IT transformation effort, and could spark military-wide e-mail consolidation.

The Army plans to migrate almost 250,000 users currently using numerous, separate e-mail systems onto a single enterprise messaging and collaboration managed service over the next two years, according to new procurement documents released this week.

A draft request for proposals pegs the possible price of the initial five-year contract for migration and subsequent management as topping out at $243 million. According to a draft migration plan, the Army will begin moving users to the new system beginning in November, and hopes to complete the consolidation effort by April 2012, when it wraps up the migration at Fort Myer, Va.

Currently, the Army spends a whopping $400 million annually on e-mail, largely due to the administrative and support challenges of operating 15 separate Active Directory forests (one for the continental United States, another for the Army Corps of Engineers, another for soldiers in Korea, etc.) that run separate instances and in some cases different versions of Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory, and facilitating e-mail for 300 sites and 950,000 users worldwide across the Army's classified and unclassified networks.

In today's environment, soldiers are often unable to share calendars and access e-mail when mobile, hardware is underutilized, managers are unable to have a single view of service availability, and services and administrative responsibilities are duplicated several times over.

The end goal, according to a concept of operations document, would be to allow solders access to their e-mail from any computer on the Department of Defense network, enabling "virtual teams spanning organizations and geographical locations" to create dynamic distribution lists and share calendars and contact information. Additionally, distributed e-mail server nodes will be able to provide e-mail services even while disconnected from the rest of the enterprise network.

As a managed service, the Army is leaving open the possibility that the e-mail services will be hosted in commercial facilities that meet certain Army and Department of Defense security requirements, with the other option being hosting in Defense Information Systems Agency facilities.

The Army also estimates that the migration will save millions of dollars in its e-mail consolidation and reduce vulnerabilities to cyber attacks. The Army plans to use Cisco Ironport e-mail security products to filter unwanted e-mails and needs the contractor to meet various security requirements.

Soldiers will be able to access the new, consolidated e-mail services via the Web, Microsoft Outlook or Entourage, or their mobile devices. The contractor who wins the award will have to man a 24x7 service desk and meet all Army security requirements.

The plan lines up with what Army CIO Jeff Sorenson said when he mentioned the e-mail consolidation plans in an interview with InformationWeek in December, then characterizing it as part of the Army's Global Network Enterprise Construct, which is a major IT consolidation and transformation effort aimed on the user side at giving soldiers a single, consistent IT environment as they move among different phases of operation, and on the IT side at giving the Army an increased measure of manageability and control over its network.

The documents note that this consolidation effort will be used to determine whether to expand the effort Army-wide and potentially eventually across the DoD's more than 5 million users.

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