DISA scales back DMS 'grand design'

The Defense Information Systems Agency has abandoned its "grand design" plans for the half-billion-dollar Defense Message System and will refocus its development efforts so DMS "converges" more closely with commercial products according to Lt. Gen. Al Edmonds who acknowledged on June 6 his last day at DISA director the need to revamp the program.

Edmonds said DISA should concentrate DMS development and fielding efforts on the infrastructure that will take over the core messaging functions now performed by the aging Autodin message system which is used to send highly classified and sensitive traffic such as "go to war" messages.

DISA technical director Frank Perry concurred adding that DISA could meet some DMS requirements with much simpler technologies that do not require massive infrastructure development including World Wide Web technology secure faxes and secure telephones.

Edmonds who developed many of the requirements of the DMS contract that was awarded to Lockheed Martin Corp. said he would give himself "less than an `A' for DMS" development and admitted that the requirement to field DMS by 2000 did not receive as much of his attention during his tour as director as other projects did.

The Pentagon conceived DMS almost a decade ago as a replacement for Autodin and as a Defense Departmentwide electronic-mail system designed to serve up to 2 million users including tactical commands operating in the field. DOD also touted DMS as a panacea for the messaging needs of the entire federal government. That grand design included a massive hardware infrastructure - from PCs equipped with slots for encryption cards to local-area networks powered by network servers on every military base - as well as a large software effort including adapting commercial messaging products to fit military-unique requirements and the development of a massive centralized directory. While the hardware design still exists Edmonds said it lacks funding from the three services and support by users in the field.

DISA also adopted an international messaging standard X.400 little used in the commercial world and an addressing and directory scheme X.500 which is far more complicated than Internet addressing. DISA has started to back off but has yet to abandon these standards according to Perry. In an interview last week Perry talked about the need for "convergence" between DMS standards and commercial standards such as Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).

Looking back at the history of DMS Perry said that "over the course of the years the world has not stood still.... X.400 has not fallen into disuse but [Internet Protocol] standards are coming into broader use. We have to acknowledge that. We need convergence and have to stay converged."

A spokesman for Lockheed Martin said "We clearly recognize that technology has changed and we have people in the program office working on the evolution of DMS. We're in the business of moving with technology."

Still Perry did not totally embrace SMTP or abandon X.400. "We will end up in a world with multiple protocols...[but] that will require gateways and gateways tend to [reduce bandwidth] and [are] difficult."

DMS critics inside and outside of DOD view the change as significant. Santosh Chokhari a security consultant and president of Cygnacom Solutions called DISA's move to SMTP "music to our ears.... The wind has been blowing in that direction for some time but some people are slow to admit it."

Perry said DISA is examining various technologies available in the commercial environment. "Secure fax is one of the options" DISA is considering he said. New technologies such as groupware and collaborative planning tools which were not developed when the Pentagon laid out the DMS standards can satisfy military requirements "and they don't fit into message standards " he said.

The Web also offers opportunities for DOD users who increasingly want to move information that includes maps and images Perry said. Web sites could easily handle casualty reports now managed by Autodin Perry added.

Keith Attenborough the DMS product manager for Lotus Development Corp. said his company has revamped its Notes product line in a way that will accommodate many of the new DMS program requirements. "DMS is evolving to a place we are already in " Attenborough said. The new Lotus Domino server uses a Web browser interface offers interactive planning and can send a secure fax.

Perry said DISA will back a three-pronged approach to security using software encryption smart cards and the Fortezza cards which were singled out in the original DMS design. Fortezza cards provide "high assurance" but also come at a "high cost " Perry noted adding "not every DOD user" needs the level of security offered by Fortezza cards.

Security however remains a paramount DMS requirement Perry said adding that "purely commercial products will not satisfy our requirements " singling out SMTP products as lacking the highest levels of assurance the Pentagon needs.

"DMS is a well-intentioned program that has run into a number of problems manifestly apparent to the people who run it " said Gary Van Dyke president of J.G. Van Dyke Associates. A number of firms including Van Dyke's have been brought in to help refocus the program.

Van Dyke said his company "has been tasked to help determine when one technology is better than another" and to add new approaches such as the Web and groupware. "Over half the requirements of DMS could probably be met by commercial products " Van Dyke said. But for highly secure traffic Van Dyke believes only X.400 and a DMS crafted to meet military requirements will work.

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