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Army Consolidates Email Under DISA Cloud

One enterprise system hosted by Defense Information Systems Agency is expected to save $100 million annually.

The U.S. Army hopes to save $100 million annually by moving from its current network of many disparate e-mail systems to one enterprise system hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency in what Army CIO and Lt. Gen Jeffrey Sorenson said Monday is just the first step in a much wider military email consolidation effort.

Currently, the Army spends about $400 million annually on e-mail, administering innumerable isolated e-mail instantiations all around the world running different instances and sometimes different versions of Microsoft Exchange and Active Directory.

That means that, despite the high costs, soldiers often can't share calendars or find other soldiers by their e-mail addresses, hardware is underutilized, and top IT managers don't have a single view of service availability, and administrative functions are needlessly duplicated. For example, at Virginia's Fort Belvoir alone, there are 15 e-mail instances and six help desks.

The new effort, inked in a September deal with DISA but first detailed on Monday, would result in one toll-free enterprise service desk and one shared enterprise email service for 1.4 million common access card users in the Army. Instead of spending more than $100 per seat per year, the new deal will cost the Army less than $39 per seat per year.

The Army has been considering e-mail consolidation for some time. The deal with DISA replaces an earlier e-mail consolidation proposal that was scrapped in June when, Sorenson said, it came up against bureaucratic hurdles and security concerns, as well as potential costs of server upgrades. However, DISA has a ready-made infrastructure with a high-speed network and distributed data centers.

"If we hadn't done this, at the end of the day, we would probably still have been studying this thing, but we now have this service with DISA," Sorenson said in a press conference with reporters. "We were wasting time and money, and it was my decision to say, let's stop the nonsense here."

The deal with DISA also aims to move much quicker than a new e-mail contract might have done. The CIO's office will be on the enterprise service by January, Army headquarters by February, and the entire Army by the end of the next fiscal year, slightly more than 11 months from now. The earlier effort would have pushed the completion of the migration back into 2012.

Once the Army has completed its move, the military plans to move on to consolidating e-mail for several of its unified combatant commands, including the European Command, Transportation Command, and Africa Command, which Sorenson estimated will account for several hundred thousand more e-mail users, and then eventually to the rest of the Department of Defense as part of an overall Department of Defense efficiency initiative.

"The Army's going to lead the department in doing this, and then, when we get done, it will move on to the other services," he said.

In concert with the e-mail consolidation effort, Sorenson said, the Army will also be carrying out a small pilot of Google Apps with 200 to 300 people to determine what true cloud-based e-mail might mean for the Department of Defense and the Army going forward.

DISA, the Army's partner on the effort, is also looking to capitalize on the deal by expanding the services it currently offers. For example, the Army's also working through an enterprise SharePoint deal with DISA, and, according to DISA director of computing services Alfred Rivera, DISA is working on security and other services to deliver from its data centers.

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