Air Force sets standards for servers

Baseline configuration for Windows machines follows PC success

FOR MORE THAN 15 years, the Air Force has required large mainframe providers IBM, Unisys and others to configure their servers in a standard way.

Now it's requiring the same of Microsoft.

Although most mission-critical systems run on Unix mainframes, Air Force bases and headquarters have more Microsoft servers than anything else.

Kenneth Heitkamp, the Air Force's chief information officer and associate director for life cycle management in the service's Office of Warfighting Integration, said the number of Microsoft servers across the department led officials to develop the configurations, which eventually will be mandatory.

The service's work on standard server configurations follows its success in requiring all desktop and laptop PCs to use the secure desktop configuration for Windows XP and Vista (GCN.com/1007).

Heitkamp said bases can implement five different standard server configurations, including versions for Windows 2003, domain controller and 32-bit and 64-bit enterprise editions. Four other server configurations for SharePoint, Exchange 2003, file and print servers are in final testing.

Heitkamp said the benefit and cost reduction from using the desktop standards make the servers a logical follow-up to standardizing PC configurations. He said the Air Force will save about $20 million this year by reducing PC costs by about $100 each.

'We know the identity of the human being, the identity of the machine, and we now have configurations we can verify,' Heitkamp said. 'Before anyone connects to Air Force networks in a Windows environment, they will comply so we know who you are, the configuration of your device and what device you are on, and then we will allow you on the network.'

He added that it still is too early in the process to estimate cost savings or cost avoidance.

Ken Page, Microsoft's Federal Desktop Core Configuration program manager, said the Air Force's decision to standardize servers is becoming the industry norm. He said the company has helped develop server configurations for Miami Dade County and large corporations.

'The concept still is new across the IT community,' he said. 'It is cutting-edge, similar to what the standard desktop was a few years ago.' Page said he wouldn't be surprised to see the Office of Management and Budget follow the Air Force's lead and require all agencies to use a standard server configuration.

Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology, said her office is aware of the work the Air Force is doing but is not ready to commit to following their lead.

Heitkamp said the Air Force would wait until Microsoft releases the next version of Windows server ' Windows Server 2008 was released several weeks ago ' before making the configurations mandatory. He said the service will develop a set of standards around the new editions and then require commanders to use them.

Heitkamp said the work with Unisys, IBM and Hewlett- Packard in the past decade, and now Microsoft, provides benefits beyond cost savings. 'We have to standardize those servers so anyone developing applications to run in those environments would use those settings,' he said.

He also said the Air Force is working with the Army to test a standard configuration for Apple desktop computers.

'The Army has accomplished preliminary work on the configuration,' Heitkamp said. 'I think they have not determined which version of the operating system.

They have to decide whether it makes sense to retrofit or focus on the future.'

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