The CIO of the Department of Defense has devised an ambitious IT plan that aims to help the military branches cope with billions of dollars in budget cuts.
As the military moves toward an enterprise IT model, two initiatives in particular--data center consolidation and shared services--have some of the greatest potential for savings and new capabilities. In many cases, they will happen in tandem.
The Army, which is looking to close 75% of its 300 data centers, aligned that consolidation with its Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program, under which it's closing or reconfiguring dozens of facilities. As part of that work, the Army is consolidating applications and virtualizing servers. And it's transitioning its Exchange email environment--where servers are deployed and managed by internal departments--to a DISA data center, where Exchange servers are centrally managed. The Army has transitioned 230,000 users to email as a service, and it's converting others at a rate of 20,000 per week, with the goal of getting 1.6 million users on the service.
Mike Krieger, deputy CIO of the Army, notes several advantages to this approach. Users now have access to a global address list that includes everyone at the DOD. They get unlimited email storage, no longer limited to 200 MB. And the Exchange calendar function, which had been restricted to "enclaves" of users, is now all-inclusive, making scheduling easier.
The Army's switch to SaaS email is expected to save $100 million annually. Next, it plans to introduce collaboration tools as a service.
If all goes well, the DOD wants other branches to tap into DISA's email service. The Joint Chiefs of Staff is due to get it in January, and the Air Force could follow.
First, however, the Army must demonstrate that its email service can operate reliably. It was forced to put the Exchange implementation on hold for three months this past summer after encountering a series of network problems. Email traffic bogged down as improperly configured firewalls retransmitted packets, gobbling bandwidth. Other performance issues were traced to unpatched systems, an improperly configured intrusion-prevention system, and a faulty switch card.
The Army has since cleaned up those issues through attention to hardware configurations and other planning, and the migration is now going "smoothly," Krieger wrote in a recent blog post.
Change In Culture
The Army's email conversion is important for another reason. It's a test of just how far the military branches will go in sharing IT resources. Speaking at InformationWeek's Government IT Leadership Forum in Washington earlier this year, Krieger made that point in blunt military fashion. "In the past, we told DISA they couldn't do anything past the DISA point of presence outside the gate at Fort Riley," Krieger said, turning to DISA CIO Henry Sienkiewicz. "If they tried, we'd cut off their hands."
Now that DISA is the provider of its email service, Krieger said he told DISA vice director Maj. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins (since nominated to become DISA's next director) that he expects the agency to monitor the customer experience. Krieger recounted: "He said, 'Do you mean that we can go past the point of presence? Is the Army changing policy here?' And I said, yes."
There will be many ways to track the effectiveness of Takai's new IT enterprise plan--cost savings, cloud adoption, data center closings, and the level of virtualization. Key to all of that will be how many times CIOs are willing to say "yes" to new ways of working.