DISA to treat commercial software, C2 apps as utility service

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) plans to acquire everything from data center computing capacity and storage to command and control (C2) applications as utility-like services, according to top agency officials, speaking Oct. 23 at an industry briefing.

Air Force Lt. Gen Charles Croom, DISA director, said the agency intends to drastically change the way it delivers information technology to Defense Department users from a traditional acquisition-based approach that can take years to a fast response services delivery approach.

“Information is America’s greatest weapons system,” Croom said at the DISA Industry Day conference, “but processes we have created are holding us back” from delivering IT products and services to troops in harm’s way.

DISA started toward a service-based environment in July with a $17 million award to IBM for the agency’s Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) contract that will provide users throughout DOD with instant messaging, low-bandwidth text chat and Web conferencing on a managed service basis.

Earlier this month, DISA awarded contracts with an estimated total value of $700 million to Apptis, Sun Microsystems, Vion and Hewlett-Packard to supply and manage servers at its 17 data centers. Rather than buying server hardware, DISA is paying the vendors for processing services on an hourly basis.

The agency is not done yet. Alfred Rivera, DISA director for computing services, said that next month the agency will award a storage-on-demand contract for the data centers, enabling DISA to add storage “as we need it.” He added that DISA now wants to apply this same utility model used to acquire software, too.

John Garing chief information officer and director for strategic planning and information at DISA, said managed services of all kinds marks the wave of the future for the agency.

Croom said DISA also wants to take a utility approach to small applications, such as digital mapping. This would enable the agency to quickly and easily "plug in a module of capability" into the network whenever it is needed.

David Mihelcic, DISA’s chief technology officer, said customers could use a government charge card to pay for such applications by the hour. That approach, Mihelcic said, could compress the time to acquire, develop or implement an application from months “down to days or minutes.”

DISA would like to use that approach with its next-generation C2 system, the Net-Enabled Command Capability (NECC), said Army Col. Dave Bennett, DISA’s deputy director for C2 programs.

DISA developed the NECC predecessor, the Global Command and Control System, as an end-to-end system. They would set up NECC to provide an amalgamation of discrete applications supplied by a range of providers, including C2 experts from the military services, Bennett said.

Troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed numerous well-honed applications to handle particular tasks, Mihelcic said.

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