Failure is not an option

Thousands of Army Knowledge Online (AKO) users were without service earlier this month after a hardware glitch disconnected them for a few hours from their e-mail and other online services.

That mishap, however, has helped the service justify its investment in an initial disaster recovery capability for AKO — a capability that about a year ago did not have funding. The Army anticipates having this backup site up and running by the end of this month. Northrop Grumman Corp. is the lead contractor.

"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. The portal has more than 1.4 million accounts, and Fong said more than half of all active-duty soldiers log into AKO at least once a week.

Duplicating a data center of that size is a complicated process that is being done in phases, with the most critical capabilities and information being mirrored first, he said. He would not reveal the location of the backup site for security reasons.

"We're planning to have the initial capability by the end of this month," Fong told Federal Computer Week after his June 4 speech at the Army Small Computer Program's Information Technology conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I'd love to have something in place before [Army CIO] Gen. [Peter] Cuviello retires" in early July.

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

Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, said the Army would already have this capability if it were a priority.

"Evidently, it is not a top priority," he said. "I don't think one views government projects like this with high expectations in terms or performance or customer service."

But 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."

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