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Q & A: Army CIO Advances Consolidation Effort

Cloud computing and powerful mobile devices are part of Jeffrey Sorenson's plan to centralize Army IT and make it more consistent for soldiers deploying from bases to the battlefield.

Army chief information officer Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson is in the midst of a major consolidation effort, trying to make Army IT more centralized and consistent as soldiers deploy from their bases to the battlefield and then come back home again. InformationWeek recently talked with him about this effort, what it means for soldiers and Army IT pros, and its role as a catalyst for cloud computing and more powerful mobile computing in the Army.

InformationWeek: Military IT has long been the home of countless information stovepipes, but it seems like one of the key IT strategies, both for the Army and at a higher level for the Department of Defense in general, is to work on cutting those down. What are your biggest efforts there right now?

Sorenson: A little bit over two years ago we began to formulate a strategy we have now codified as the Global Network Enterprise Construct, which is essentially working to bring about a global network enterprise that it is secure, that functions as a single capable network, and that doesn't cost as much as it does today.

In doing this, there are four fundamental tenets. The first thing was to aggregate, i.e., to find out what is on the network. The second part was to then look at how we consolidate. I can speak to a lot of horror stories. For example, we did a deep dive on Fort Belvoir's networks and found there were six different help desks.

The third piece is to standardize and put out guidance on how we are going to build these networks in a manner that's easier to integrate on the back end as opposed to cobbling everything together. The last part is to modernize.

We've initiated three major efforts, one a global constellation of what we call fixed-regional hub nodes to facilitate communications at the transport layer. Of this constellation, we've established two capabilities to date, one in southwest Asia, and one in Europe, and we hope to get one set up in [the continental United States] and the Pacific this year.

The second part is to begin to consolidate into larger data centers to enhance our ability to secure the data and to begin to posture the Army for cloud computing.

The last piece is improvements to our deployed Theater Network Operations Security Centers. We have one of these in each one of the combatant command areas. I visited four of six, and through that survey it became evident we had too many toolsets looking at elements of the network.

We have gone through a major investment overhaul beginning this last year to standardize those toolsets and redo our Active Directory to get better visibility of what was on the network and to be better able to control it.

InformationWeek: What does this look like in tangible terms for the soldier?

Sorenson: We've put together what we call "the soldier story." The soldier story depicts how a brigade combat team deploys from their fort into a training location and then into the pre-deployment phase -- you can think of it as being like Kuwait -- and then finally into the theater of operations. In the past, any time soldiers made those moves, at every stop, they had to change how they connected to the network with respect to e-mail, to the transport piece, how they were storing their information, their phone numbers, and how they were collaborating. I contrast this with my Blackberry.

Anywhere I go, I can pull up that Blackberry and it connects to the network; I'm not changing my e-mail, my phone number, a SIM card. We're trying to replicate that plug and play capability so that as units move through these phases of a joint operation, the network can be there to facilitate them, as opposed to the soldiers having to think about how they're going to connect and who they can work with.

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