DISA: Shift communications to IP

Defense Information Systems Agency officials have completed a study that recommends shifting a large portion of Defense Department communications, including phone calls, to a converged network based on IP.

Depending on how DISA officials structure and contract for this converged network, it could siphon voice traffic off existing and planned federal governmentwide contracts as DOD military and civilian employees move from switched voice networks to voice-over-IP calling. Voice over IP would treat a phone call as a set of packets transmitted via the Internet or closed IP-based networks operated by DISA, analysts and vendors said.

The agency's top-down study is catching up with a technology already embraced by DOD commands, including Central Command (Centcom), which oversees

military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to vendors who have supplied equipment to Centcom and other commands.

Cisco Systems Inc. has supplied 8,000 voice-over-IP phones to Centcom for use by forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Ed Carney, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Government Systems Unit. The company has installed more than 130 voice-over-IP networks for DOD worldwide, Carney added.

John Winters, vice president of federal sales at Network Equipment Technologies Inc., said the company, under a Centcom contract, has installed 44 systems in Iraq and Kuwait and more than 22 in Afghanistan that convert calls from secure telephones with built-in encryption to voice-over-IP calls.

Joe Boyd, DISA's director of network services, discussed the IP convergence plans last week during the Army Directorate of Information Management conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He did not provide many details on the study and officials declined to provide a copy of it.

Boyd said some DISA officials did not want to completely convert all DOD networks to IP. He said they wanted to keep sensitive networks, such as nuclear command and control systems, out of an IP-converged environment, citing the prevalence of denial-of-service attacks on the Internet as a reason to be cautious about convergence.

To mitigate these security concerns, officials at DISA's Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., quietly started testing and certifying voice-over-IP hardware for use on department networks this winter.

In February, JITC certified voice-over-IP switches and routing gateways from Nortel Networks Ltd. In March, the command certified voice-over-IP PBX systems from Avaya Inc., including a version that provides some of the same military features as those used in DOD's switched voice networks. In July, command officials approved a voice-over-IP PBX from Sphere Communications Inc.

Carney said Cisco personnel finished testing the voice-over-IP equipment last week. Bob Cooil, director of integrated solutions at Lucent Technologies' Government Solutions division, said they also finished testing voice-over-IP products at JITC last week. DISA's goal is to "get to a single integrated network with voice just becoming another application on a large data network," he said.

Jim Payne, senior vice president and general manager for government services at Qwest Communications International Inc., called voice over IP a sound and stable technology that works, but he said he wonders about DISA's approach.

Qwest officials said DISA officials should consider developing — with industry's help — an end-to-end voice-over-IP network rather than buying its own voice-over-IP hardware, which would require extensive maintenance, software support and upgrades. The company is a network subcontractor on DISA's Global Information Grid-Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE) and is also a local service provider under the General Services Administration's FTS 2001 telecommunications contract.

Payne said he also wonders about the potential impact a DISA converged network would have on the FTS 2001 network, which carries the bulk of DOD's voice traffic.

John Johnson, assistant commissioner for service development at GSA's Federal Technology Service, said he had been unaware of the IP convergence study. However, he said, it "makes good technical sense to migrate DOD voice traffic to a data network."

Johnson added that DOD networks, including GIG-BE, do not have the nationwide reach that FTS 2001 networks have. The department's networks are not ubiquitous, he said, and GSA officials would like to help them gain that reach.

He said that Networx, GSA's FTS 2001 follow-on contract, could include voice-over-IP service.

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