Air Force battles connectivity

Air Force battles connectivity

Brig. Gen. Anthony Bell says the service's chief information office has powerful leverage.

Officers focus on ensuring the last-mile link between base LANs and DISN

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

Air Force officials have begun two pilot programs to develop more consistent base network security configurations for connecting to the Defense Information Systems Network.

Shortly before retiring, Air Force deputy chief information officer Lt. Gen. William J. Donahue met with Army Lt. Gen. David J. Kelley, the Defense Information Systems Agency's director, and Navy Capt. Paul A. Tibbetts, program executive officer for military health systems (MHS) information technology, to sort through the problem, Tibbetts said.

'Lt. Gen. Donahue has been unable to effect a consistent security policy. It's a last-mile problem' in connecting to the DISN for long-haul communications from base networks, Tibbetts said at the recent Defense@E-Business conference in Arlington, Va. 'Base commanders can nix Air Force product selections,' he said.

Four-way deal

MHS officials have asked DISA to give service-level agreements to the four DOD services to handle last-mile communications for MHS programs, which would improve matters, Tibbetts said.

Such an agreement would help the Tri-Services Infrastructure Management Program Office at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, improve planning of DISN capacity for MHS programs, he said.

'They want to lay money in the [program objective memorandum] just before the deployment of an application,' a practice called just-in-time planning, Tibbetts said.

The Air Force is conducting operational tests and evaluations at Langley Air Force Base, Va., and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., to improve base connectivity, Tibbetts said.

'They would become the Air Force's standard solution. The Army and Navy also have committed to implementing standard solutions. Local commands need to have policy from the services,' he said.

There are 117 Air Force bases and 117 network configurations in the service because base commanders control base infrastructure funding and decide which software configurations they deploy at their installations, said Michael J. Mestrovich, a former DISA official who is now president and chief executive officer of New Dimensions Unlimited LLC of Dumfries, Va.

Tibbetts said his office is interested in last-mile connectivity at DOD installations because health facilities depend on their installations' connections to DISN for programs such as the Composite Health Care System II and Pharmacy Data Transaction Service (PDTS).

Through the Computer Sciences Corp. PDTS contract, for example, MHS officials want a six-second turnaround through DISN so pharmacy clerks at military health facilities can check patient records to see if they qualify to receive certain prescriptions.

'The easiest way to alleviate that problem is to pay for the products' through a servicewide site license, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Anthony W. 'Bud' Bell Jr., vice commander of the Air Force Communications and Information Center.

Major commands are strapped for money, so the service's chief information office has powerful leverage if it pays for the products it wants the bases to use, he said.

'We are trying to build a homogenous environment' to help reduce user training costs, Bell said at Defense@E-Business.

Last-mile connectivity into the bases is becoming less of a problem due to the Air Force's Combat Information Transportation System (CITS) program, through which the service is deploying a central core infrastructure to all bases by 2005, said Col. William Nelson, deputy director for chief information officer support at the Air Force Communications and Information Center.

The CITS Network Management System, through which the Air Force deploys firewalls and other network security products, is a $150 million program with contractors Electronic Data Systems Corp. and TRW Inc.

'The last 400 feet is still problematic,' Nelson said. Service officials are working to ensure that new buildings built on bases have the capacity to meet the Air Force's network infrastructure needs, he said recently.

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