Navy portal aims to host 3,000 apps

Adm. William Fallon wants all essential Navy apps Web-enabled by April 2004.

Personnelman 2nd Class Robert Cotner uses the portal at the Afloat Planning System Atlantic in Norfolk, Va.

'Getting single sign-on to work across different applications, security levels and data owners is one of the toughest areas.'

'the Navy's Monica Shephard

The Navy Enterprise Portal has launched about 100 online applications through a common, secure Web portal.

The pilot that began in February of last year has spread from shore installations to battle groups at sea. Adm. William Fallon, vice chief of operations, has set an April 2004 deadline for Web-enabling all essential Navy applications and databases.

'The value of the portal is going to increase the more data we put into it,' said Monica Shephard, director of the Navy's Task Force Web.
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While still growing, the portal has moved from a test bed to a fully operational piece of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet, which securely links vital services ashore and afloat.

'I've got it out there on my battle groups,' Shephard said.

The portal will become the user interface for the Web-Enabled Navy, a concept developed by Fallon in 2000. The service created Task Force Web in January 2001 to take the portal from concept to implementation. It went operational at shore bases last summer and was installed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt battle group in December.

Access is primarily through NMCI, although reservists and other users without NMCI seats can get to the portal via the Internet with a user name and password.

The number of applications has shrunk as the pilot progressed, Shephard said.

'When we started in 2001, there were 100,000 applications,' she said. 'There are currently between 7,000 and 8,000 that have been identified as operational.'

Fallon's target for the near future is to get that number down to 3,000, but Shephard said she hopes it can be pared even further.

'I think all applications can be compacted to a family of a few hundred Web services,' she said. 'I feel that a reasonable long-term goal would be in the 500 to 700 range. We're not trying to Web-enable everything out there, we want to enable the right things.'

Ready to use

Applications now available include global readiness tracking systems, meteorology products from the Space and Naval Warfare Command, and Naval Sea Systems Command capabilities-and-limitations programs.

The portal isn't the only way to access those applications, however.

'We have maintained the ability to access them other ways' for users unfamiliar with the Internet, Shephard said. But the portal has certain advantages. It is designed for the limited bandwidth of ships and other remote environments, and it does more than just access applications and sites. It can search databases and link various apps.

The readiness tracking system, for instance, can link to systems for joint staff reporting, message delivery and investment analysis. It eventually will also connect to a joint operational and readiness system.
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The Portal Connector middleware makes the legacy apps viewable by browser. To Web-enable an application, developers write a service module into a connector template, which is housed with the application. The portal sends calls to the service module, which returns content for display. Various modules are written as Microsoft Active Server Pages, Sun JavaServer Pages or Common Gateway Interface scripts.

Shephard said her task force had to develop the Portal Connector middleware themselves.

'If something like that was available in the commercial environment, I would have grabbed it,' she said. The task force is encouraging commercial development by working with open-source and standards groups.

'We are sharing our work openly,' she said. 'Everything we are doing is standards-based, and I don't mean military standards. I mean commercial standards.'

One goal is single sign-on capability.

'Getting single sign-on to work across different applications, security levels and data owners is one of the toughest areas,' she said.

Not the best conditions

Commercial products often are unsuited for the naval environment because developers assume optimal conditions, such as lots of dependable bandwidth. But the portal must work on ships where connections can be as slow as 2.4 Kbps. Most ships have connections of 28.8 Kbps to 32 Kbps, and some have bigger pipes. In a war theater they must share satellite connections that are 'a smaller pipe, not open all the time, and it can be taken away at any time,' Shephard said.

Developing connections and applications for such conditions is complex, Shephard said. The best way is up-front design.

'You start at the beginning with an understanding of the complexities of the environment afloat,' she said, where data is constantly being validated, updated and replicated.

The portal also accesses applications over the Secret IP Router Network, so security is a primary concern. Shephard said designs must be documented and configuration tightly controlled. All traffic must go through ports 80 and 443.

'If it can't get through on those ports, it doesn't get through,' Shephard said. That increases the difficulty of development, but it pays off in security.

'We underwent some very aggressive red-teaming recently,' she said. 'They were not able to crack us.'

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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