DOD unveils flexible messaging architecture

The Pentagon has adopted a new "flexible" architecture for its Defense Message System that strongly embraces commercial software offers users simplicity of use and promises to save millions of dollars on the half-billion-dollar project. The original DMS design and requirements which included a massive hardware infrastructure and military-specific software reflected Cold War concerns and technology.

The Defense Information Systems Agency developed the new architecture which is based primarily on commercial hardware and software in response to post-Cold War requirements and the evolution of a secure commercial messaging system according to top DISA officials. Lt. Gen. Douglas Buchholz director of the command control communications and computer systems directorate for the Joint Staff pushed the high-level review of the original DMS system which Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing.

"I want as commercial a system as possible...[because] I do not want field Autodin 2000 " he said. The new DMS architecture will rely on commercial Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) standards for the bulk of Defesne Department message traffic replacing the old DMS architecture that relied heavily on the increasingly noncommercial X.400 messaging protocols said Dianne McCoy DISA's deputy director for command control computer communications and intelligence programs.

But according to Navy Capt. James Day the DMS program director the architecture also will allow DOD to retain the secure system envisioned in the original DMS design for traffic that requires encryption authentication and proof of receipt of messages. "We know [that] at the top there is always going to be DOD-unique requirements " he said. "We want to make that as small as possible."

For other users who do not need as much security DISA has crafted what could be best described as "DMS Light " which puts heavy reliance on nearly commercial SMTP messaging software supplied by Microsoft Corp. and Lotus Development Corp. This approach bundles the X.400 and SMTP client software on the same server rather than sending all SMTP traffic through another server called a multifunction interpreter (MFI).

While the new DMS system still will require some MFI functions "The numbers have been reduced dramatically " Day said. The reduction will result in the saving of millions of dollars he said. As a result of the review DISA also has adopted a new cost-effective approach to security backing off from the requirement that all users encrypt their messages through a hardware Fortezza card each of which costs nearly $70. Instead Day said users can opt for what the agency calls "software Fortezza " which is under development by the National Security Agency and sometime in the future commercial encryption software.

To ensure secure delivery of messages to specific organizations or units DISA also has adopted what Day described as "domain Fortezza" and "positional Fortezza" -where only one computer or person in an organization would have a Fortezza card. This computer or individual would then redistribute that message. This change reflects concerns raised earlier this year by Navy users in the 7th Fleet who complained that each and every PC on a ship operating far from shore did not need a Fortezza card - nor did the users want to pay the bandwidth penalty for using the cards.

McCoy acknowledged that this change resulted in part from feedback from the field. Keith Attenborough DMS program manager at Lotus said DISA and DOD stand to benefit from security concerns in the commercial world. "DISA can't drive requirements " Attenborough said. But he added security concerns have pushed commercial users to require a "product more like DMS all the time. Industry is getting closer to DOD." Attenborough said Lotus should do well with the new architecture because it developed its product from the ground up in anticipation of the DMS evolution.

"We can do everything they want today " Attenborough said. A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the company's DMS managers declined to comment on the new architecture "at this time."

Day believes DMS will end up as the "beneficiary" of commercial developments especially in the security area as industries such as banking look for better ways to secure their transactions on an Internet bedeviled by hackers. As a result DISA envisions releasing a new "DMS software build about every six months" to take advantage of the changes in the commercial products.

Mitra Azizirad Microsoft program manager for DMS applauded the new flexible architecture approach adopted by DISA saying the move toward more commercial products will save the agency money while at the same time allow for quicker upgrades. The policy changes adopted by DISA can save customers as much money as the technology will Azizirad said. The initial DMS policy limited each server to 250 users not a cost-effective approach in terms of hardware or software but that cap has been dropped. Microsoft now can provide DMS users with its "super server " which can support thousands of users.

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