Halvorsen's Silicon Valley trip shakes up JRSS

Terry Halvorsen

Pentagon CIO Terry Halvorsen said he remains concerned about the software component of the Joint Regional Security Stacks.

A visit by the Defense Department’s top IT official to Silicon Valley in April has altered the software makeup of a key department-wide IT security project. The forthcoming request for proposals for Joint Regional Security Stacks software will ask vendors to incorporate big-data analytics capabilities that DOD Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen observed firsthand in Northern California.

Specifically, the next iteration of the software known as the Joint Management System should be able to harvest security insights from data that is not intuitively security-related, Halvorsen told FCW in an exclusive interview. “We’ll be able to ask industry to do … certain things that I think we would not have been able to ask them before the trip, because we now see that it’s capable.”

The JRSS are a collection of servers, switches and software tools meant to give DOD network operators a clearer view of network traffic. By sending that traffic to the cloud for analysis, the stacks can help operators quickly respond to network threats by, for example, opening certain ports or blocking a given IP address. In a speech in Baltimore last month, Halvorsen said that while he is satisfied with the hardware and command and control of JRSS, he was “concerned” with the software component, and hinted that his trip to Silicon Valley might have offered a remedy. Big data is apparently the remedy he had in mind.

The Defense Information Systems Agency expects to issue a request for quotes, a precursor to an RFP, for the next version of the JMS software in late July or early August, said DISA spokeswoman Alana Casanova.

Statistical modeling is another IT capability Halvorsen said he was struck by in Silicon Valley. The technology is evolving so that an increasing amount of data can be used to perform simulations with increasing fidelity, he said. “If that type of combination of compute and intelligent tool analysis really does produce, it’s game-changing in more ways than I can describe,” he added. One application within DOD for this sort of modeling is war-gaming, where one could consider “political, policy factors at a much higher level because you would be using all of the available data that’s out there,” he said.

The Pentagon’s IT boss met with a bevy of firms during his trip to Silicon Valley, from household names like Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle and Google to MarkLogic, a database builder whose website touts secure “military messaging” and “field-based geospatial data capture.” Halvorsen emphasized repeatedly that a meeting with a given firm was not an endorsement, but  an exchange of ideas.

Chief Investment Officer

Talk of a culture clash in how Silicon Valley and the Pentagon conduct business has been enshrined in Beltway lexicon for a reason: Startups balk at lengthy and often costly government procurement cycles. A cultural divide in investment and acquisition cycles was again on display during Halvorsen’s trip out West. “If you want to talk to the innovative companies and get them involved initially, and keep their interest, we have to start making investments really in a three-to-six month window,” he said. “And the good news [is] they don’t have to be big investments,” he said, adding that investments of well "under a million" dollars can yield breakthrough research for DOD.

The learning flowed both ways on Halvorsen’s trip. He said some in the Valley were surprised to learn just how much the Pentagon spends annually on IT (it was $35.9 billion in fiscal 2015, according to Halvorsen’s office), and the ripple effect that such investments can have in the defense industry.

DOD’s nascent outreach office in Silicon Valley will be a focal point for how the department interacts with Valley entrepreneurs. Officials have said the office will be staffed by active-duty and civilian personnel. Halvorsen said it remains to be seen whether his office will have someone fulltime at the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX), as the Silicon Valley outpost is called.

Regardless, Halvorsen’s chips won’t all be at DIUX. Noting that Silicon Valley is both a physical place and a metaphor, the DOD CIO said he plans to visit other tech hubs such as Boston and New York.

Correction: This article was updated on July 1 to correct the price point in Halvorsen's statement about the types of relatively small investments that can yield breakthrough research.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.


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