Army set to launch AKO backup site

The Army Knowledge Online portal was temporarily unavailable earlier this week because of a hardware problem, leaving thousands of users without e-mail and other online capabilities for a few hours.

To avoid similar problems in the future, the Army plans to establish an initial disaster recovery capability for AKO by the end of this month.

"The objective is two identical sites that are load-balanced," so that if one goes down, the backup kicks in and it's all seamless to users, said Col. Timothy Fong, director of the Army's chief technology office. "The outage. . .reaffirms the need for a failover because that was just hardware, not a disaster."

AKO provides Army news, distance-learning opportunities, e-mail accounts, an advanced search engine, instant messaging and chat capabilities, and a knowledge collaboration center for service staff worldwide. As of last week, the portal had more than 1.4 million accounts and Fong said that more than half of active-duty Army soldiers log into AKO at least once a week.

Duplicating a data center of that size is a complicated process and is being done in phases, with the most critical capabilities and information getting mirrored first, he said, adding that he would not divulge the location of the backup site because of operational security.

"We're planning to have the initial capability by the end of this month," Fong told FCW following his June 4 speech at the Army Small Computer Program's IT conference. "I'd love to have something in place before [Army CIO] Gen. [Peter] Cuviello retires," which is scheduled for early July.

Last June, Army officials began developing an action plan for an AKO backup site after Cuviello was promised about $50 million in funding during a May 29, 2002, meeting at the Pentagon, according to Col. Robert Coxe, the Army's chief technology officer at the time.

AKO is critical to the Army's overall transformation and worked well during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said David Borland, Army deputy CIO.

"It will be the critical piece of the Army IT infrastructure," Borland said, adding that a "hot" backup is necessary for that reason. "All knowledge in the Army will be accessible through there."

Regarding AKO, Fong said a number of other enhancements and pilots are planned, including:

* 3,000 users testing the next version of Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange (code named Titanium), with plans to ramp up to 30,000 users in the near future.

* A possible instant messaging joint interoperability feature.

* A community of practice pilot later this month in which AKO users would click a tab that would lead to information tailored to their job title or special interests.

* A 5,000-user collaboration pilot later this month using IBM Corp.'s SameTime solution, which features virtual meetings, white boarding, application sharing and other features.

Future portal enhancements being considered include wireless access, an AKO-lite for decreasing delays in downloading information, and integrating the Common Access Card and DOD public-key infrastructure for increased security, Fong said.

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