UC is key to DOD IT plans
Enabling unified communications and collaboration is rapidly becoming a necessity
The Defense Department has made it clear that unified communications (UC) will be a key element in its bid to extend sophisticated IT capabilities to all users across its sprawling worldwide enterprise, including warfighters on the far edges of the battlefield.
In January 2009, then-CIO John Grimes signed a memo outlining DOD’s UC strategy and directing agencies to begin tests to see how the Internet could be used for all the military’s communications. Less than three years later, in a document shepherded by current CIO Teri Takai, UC was described as an integral piece of DOD’s migration to a converged IP network.
"DOD wired and wireless transmission capability will be sufficiently sized, reliable, available and flexible to support DOD's mission needs," states the DOD Information Enterprise Strategic Plan 2010-2012, published in December 2011. Furthermore, part of the strategy for achieving that goal is to “transition DOD networks to unified capabilities, to include IPv6, and migrate from circuit-based technology to a converged (voice, video and data) IP network and UC services environment.”
It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen quickly. As the plan indicates, even today most military communications travel over decades-old time-division multiplexing, circuit-switched networks that can’t easily take advantage of IP-based technologies. But DOD’s vision of servicemen and women communicating with one another via voice, instant messaging, e-mail and video using tablet PCs and smart phones requires it.
UC pilot projects have begun to blossom throughout the military services. The Air Force recently concluded a four-week-long experiment called Unified Capabilities I that tested how UC could help Air Force personnel do their jobs better. Unified Capabilities II, which is scheduled for July, will build on the earlier test and examine both the opportunities and risks in an “operationally relevant environment,” according to an Air Combat Command press release.
The command has begun a five-year UC transformation with the goal of having some 20 percent of its users be UC compliant in the first year, the command’s chief technology officer, Bill Marion, recently told FedScoop.
The Army IT Agency, which provides IT services to the Pentagon and other DOD organizations, is exploring UC through a new pilot project, Executive Director Donald Adcock said in a recent interview with Defense Systems magazine. Adcock said he is optimistic about building capabilities that will eventually underpin a DOD-wide “bring your own device” policy that can securely support all platforms and services.
Enabling unified communications and collaboration is rapidly becoming a necessity for the Army, said Marvin Wages, IT project manager at the Army’s CIO/G6, which oversees the Army’s LandWarNet computing and communications infrastructure. Connecting users throughout the Army regardless of location “is a critical part of shared situational awareness,” Wages told attendees at AFCEA International’s 2011 LandWarNet Conference.
However, he pointed out, implementing UC presents challenges for DOD that don’t exist for other government organizations or in the commercial world. Those challenges include providing for public-key infrastructure and Common Access Card authentication, enabling seamless communication among many groups of users and Internet domains, and supporting users at the tactical edge of the network.
What all that means for the timing of a DOD-wide UC rollout is unclear. Voice over IP, for example, was one of the first IP-based technologies to be implemented at DOD and is a key enabling technology for UC, but most DOD agencies are still in the process of adopting it.
Key organizations are further along, however. The Defense Information Systems Agency, which supplies IT services for much of DOD, completed a network backbone upgrade for voice over IP in 2011. The agency is planning to have IP-based voice and video traffic enabled on its network for some 80 percent of DOD customers by 2017.