DOD expects industry to help it achieve net-centricity

'The real interoperability issues in network-centric operations are no longer at the link level. They're at the data level.'

'John Osterholz, director of architecture and interoperability

Olivier Douliery

For the Defense Department, doing business on the Internet isn't exactly like, say, selling books online. The stakes are ineffably higher.

'In the military world, we're asking people to trust their lives to the Internet,' said John Osterholz, director of architecture and interoperability in the department's CIO office.

Admittedly, the department's users don't tap into applications as if tapping into Amazon.com. DOD partitions its IP use with security features, but even so, Osterholz noted that IP functions are now at the core of DOD activities.

Osterholz is on the front lines of the department's post-Quadrennial Defense Review transformational push toward network centricity.

'We have direct responsibility for orchestrating the move toward network-centric operations as a departmental paradigm,' he said. 'It's what we're pressing hard on.'

As the department's enterprise architect, Osterholz is charged with developing the enterprise architecture for the Global Information Grid. GIG is DOD's centerpiece: a network of networks that will connect everything from sensors and satellites to deployed soldiers, sailors and Marines.

The department issued the first version of the GIG architecture about a year ago. The latest version will be ready in about six months, Osterholz said.

Clear guidance

'It will be heavily network-centric in terms of its focus and perspective,' he said. 'It will provide people with the road map and North Star by which they can decide what investments make sense and what investments don't make sense any longer.'

Many of DOD's future investments will be in new commercial IT products, said Osterholz, who sees industry helping to light the way to transformation within the department.

'The reliability of networking has improved dramatically in the last five years,' he said. 'You see that as the Internet is used more and more for commercial and business purposes. That's a trend that hasn't escaped anybody's attention here at the Defense Department.'

Network-centric warfare and operations will follow the business world's lead, he said, adding that commercial technology is 'at the state where it can support a departmentwide move to network centricity.'

Defense also is counting on major advances in commercial technologies to overcome the hurdles to creating a seamlessly networked department.

One such area is wireless communications, what Osterholz calls 'the small-appliance networking part' of a network-centric DOD. Wireless technology is a potentially great asset for a net-centric military force, but it also poses some of most bedeviling impediments, including low bandwidth and intermittent connectivity, he said.

'We talk about providing power to the edge'meaning providing the power of IT to those who need it at the time they need it,' he said. 'But there are those on the physical edge of the network as well, such as the forces that are forward-deployed. They need the same access to data that you might need sitting in a command center in the Pentagon. But they have to have it in a small wireless package.'

In DOD's vision, wirelessly connected handheld or tablet PCs represent the future for warfighters. And one of their primary weapons will be data'heavy-duty data that devours bandwidth.

'Probably the most challenging part of GIG is putting in place the ultra-wideband capabilities that we need to have for those small platforms on the edge,' he said.

But, Osterholz said, he suspects that it won't be long before commercial technologies provide the multiple megabits per second necessary for wireless platforms in the battlespace to support data-intensive transmissions.

DOD brass view data as the lifeblood of their transformed, networked world. 'The data is what matters to you,' Osterholz said and adapted a Clinton-era campaign line: 'It's the data, stupid.'

The ability to post data on a trusted network is a vital element of network-centric operations.

'You have to have people actively refreshing the content of the network in order for it to be useful,' he said.

But fresh approaches to handling and searching data are needed, too. Osterholz said the new model emphasizes data pull rather than data push.

'We believe ultimately that the key to managing data overload is making commanders responsible for pulling the data that they need into their decision space rather than having some galactic, online genius decide what they need,' he said.

The department will also look to industry for dynamic new search technologies to make its pull model viable.

Osterholz said cutting-edge distributed technologies such as Gnutella, the open-source file-swapping software that programmers use to create powerful Web-search tools, will let network warriors find the data they need when they need it.

Defense will also rely on industry to help it develop tools to connect the data dots and give commanders a consistently ubiquitous view of the battlefield.

'Horizontal fusion is a vital piece of this move to network-centric operations,' he said. 'It turns out that the commercial world has a number of interesting applications used for business intelligence. We ultimately believe that most, if not all, of the significant advances that we need to have in our pocket will come out of commercial networking or commercial computing applications.'

Making systems across the department interoperable is a prelude to true centricity and yet something else that will require new models.

'The old way of doing interoperability by connecting individual data links between entities will not scale to the level we need to make network-centric operations work,' Osterholz said. 'Proliferating all these links would simply bankrupt you and create an absolutely impossible engineering problem.'

Instead, he said, creating net-ready nodes is the approach to take, making access to data IP-based. 'The real interoperability issues in network-centric operations are no longer at the link level,' he added. 'They're at the data level.'

Dealing with interoperability problems is nothing new to Osterholz.

Prior to his DOD post, which he has held for three years, he was deputy director of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence Integration Support Activity. Before that, he was deputy director of the Defense Information Systems Agency for modeling, simulation and assessment, a role that included oversight of the Joint Interoperability Test Command.

How far along the road is Defense toward its net-centricity goal?

'We're at the beginning,' Osterholz said. 'There are certainly pockets of things that one could say have the characteristics of net-centricity, but because they're pockets, they are not net-centric. So as a first part of the strategy we're opening up those pockets and stitching them together.'

But technology is advancing quickly, making Osterholz and his colleagues in the CIO's office optimistic.

'The future is in our hands right now,' he said. 'That's what's so exciting about this point in time. There is so much to give you hope, particularly on the commercial side, which is moving so rapidly in terms of advanced capability that we won't be technologically starved.'

Network centricity 'becomes a very doable do,' he said, adding, 'Within the decade, the department should substantially be operating net-centrically.'

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