High-speed, reliable connections are part of the arsenal
By Richard W. Walker
Networks are weapons. That's the new refrain at the Defense Department.
DOD networks 'must be controlled, managed and protected as weapons systems,' Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege Jr., director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and manager of the National Communications System, proclaimed before a Washington audience recently. 'Without networks tying command and control together, you don't have command and control.'
Networks carry information. And information is an intrinsic element of winning wars.
'Information, information processing and communications networks are at the core of every military activity,' Raduege said.
New demands and new technologies are driving the network-as-weapon metamorphosis at DOD.
From the biggest networks, such as the behemoth Defense Information Systems Network, touted as the network of all networks, to the smallest LANs, such as the Army Logistic Support Activity's 800-user LAN in Huntsville, Ala., Defense networks are all ultimately geared to supporting the warfighter.
And these networks are continuously being tuned and honed for that mission.
At LOGSA in Huntsville, for example, where 'useful information is our business,' network technicians have upgraded the LAN from Fiber Distributed Data Interface technology to Gigabit Ethernet to improve the agency's ability to provide logistical information.
'Like everybody else, we're in a constant mode of upgrading and improving,' said Jeffrey Reed, LOGSA's LAN team leader. 'We're always putting in new servers and new applications.'
Having recently added a broadcasting system to the network, which provides video to everybody's desktop PC at LOGSA, Reed is now looking to implement a system to provide technical publications via the Web.
DOD network specialists such as Reed are finding that their jobs include peering into the future, trying to anticipate technical developments and getting ready for new demands on systems.
Take wireless, for instance.
'We've been tasked to develop a wireless technology, architecture and implementation plan,' said Col. Robert Kirsch, project manager of implementation management and telecommunications for the Pentagon's huge renovation project.Wireless warriors
'Our networks are our lifeblood.'
'Maj. Gen. Bernie Skoch
Kirsch heads up a team that's building a new network infrastructure to serve the Pentagon's 25,000 users. A wireless architecture will be a part of that network.
As they build the network, Kirsch and his team try to stay ahead of future demands for bandwidth and new-technology requirements.
'We always need to keep an eye on future technology changes to ensure that our architecture is very robust and not based on a given piece of hardware or technology,' he said.
Networks have become so important that DISA has created a new senior-level position devoted entirely to providing DOD network services. Brig. Gen. Bernie Skoch, former director of chief information officer support at the Air Force Communications and Information Center, has been named to fill the post.
'Our warfighters deserve a single belly-button, someone singularly responsible for end-to-end network support,' said Raduege. 'Now they have one.'
As principal director for network services, Skoch will oversee lifecycle support for all network services provided by DISA. He will be responsible for designing, engineering, provisioning, implementing, operating and maintaining all DISA-provided networks supporting warfighting and other DOD activities.
With the appointment, DISA has stepped up an effort to make DISN the network of choice of warfighters.
'I want our customers'the warfighter and others whom we support'to know we intend to earn their business,' Raduege said. 'We want them to want us as their provider. We will streamline, refine and re-engineer our networking processes to make the biggest positive impact in the history of DISN.'
Raduege said his goals 'are to dramatically reduce the time it takes to provide services, to lower costs and to transform the DISN into a DOD intranet [that is] more responsive, better and cheaper than any network on the planet.'
To learn more about DISA's new network strategies, GCN put some questions to the agency's new network guru, Bernie Skoch.GCN:'Talk about the drivers for creating a senior-level network services position at DISA. And what will your role be?
SKOCH: For a good while, our agency has been functioning predominantly in a 'matrixed' structure.
Engineering, program management and other skilled people have been shared across the agency and have reported through leadership channels that reflected each area. That has served us'and more importantly, the warfighters'well.
But the time has come, as our environment has moved dramatically into a networked world, to restructure some elements of the agency into an organizational entity with singular responsibility for defining, designing, provisioning, operating and maintaining our networks.
The role of the new principal director for network services is to harmonize those efforts and lead all of our networking activities to ensure our customers have the best network services in the world.GCN:'What are the biggest issues and challenges for DOD networking? What's the overall vision?
SKOCH: Our challenges aren't unlike those other major information-technology service providers face. We need more bandwidth, we need better network instrumentation, and we need better and more widely distributed network management tools.
Like most every other enterprise, we could use more resources. And like every other IT activity in this surging global economy, we are having challenges recruiting and retaining the bright and energetic professionals who are the most important element in everything we are trying to do.
As to our vision, it's this: We want to provide network services that are world class and we want to be widely and highly regarded as efficient, effective and extraordinarily responsive. As I coach our team, we want to stamp out satisfied customers. We don't want to satisfy, since that implies we'll do what it takes to minimally meet a customer's needs. Instead, we want to delight our customers. We want them to say a very positive 'Wow' when they've done business with us or when they are considering doing business with us.GCN:'What is the status of DISN and the transition to the new structure?
SKOCH: The DISN will continue to be the foundation for the services we provide. There are currently five elements in the DISN: DISN Video Services-Global, our video network; the Defense Red Switch Network, our protected voice network; the Secret IP Routing Network, or SIPRnet, our protected IP enclave; the Non-Classified IP Routing Network, or NIPRnet; and the Defense Switched Network, or DSN.
Of those elements, we get tremendous praise for most of them.
As for the transition to our new structure and its effect on the DISN, I believe the effects will be positive, as we tie together all of the elements in DISA that support these networks into a homogeneous customer-focused organization.
And it may be time to begin providing Community of Interest networks within the DISN as long as they meet security and interoperability requirements.
Customers are looking for us to give them quality of service offerings, which we intend to start doing very soon. We have made investments in bandwidth and technology that will enable us to do this. All this adds up to meeting customer needs through a more flexible approach, while preserving enterprise economics and warfighting equities.GCN:'Talk about Lt. Gen. Raduege's notion of transforming DISN into a DOD intranet.
SKOCH: With respect to the notion of a DOD intranet'and please note that the phrase is surrounded by quotation marks'let me say this. Intranets have two good qualities. They generally offer better speed through the use of a clearly defined architecture, and they have robust security, owing to their limited access to users outside their domain.
We want the DISN to have those qualities, speed and security. I don't believe we necessarily need to explore other architectural constructs, but I know with surety that we need to improve in both those areas. I believe those improvements in performance are what our director was alluding to when he made those great comments.GCN:'Lt. Gen. Raduege recently talked about the fourfold growth of NIPRnet in the last 16 months and the need for more bandwidth. What are the drivers there?
SKOCH: I believe there are two. First, we are witnessing a dramatic transformation in warfighting. Some call it a revolution in military affairs, others a new way of war. In either case, we are seeing weapons, strategies, tactics, techniques and procedures becoming increasingly dependent on information technology.
While most of that is of necessity in the protected and classified domain, I believe some of the growth we are experiencing in the NIPRnet is reflective of the many support elements that are similarly being transformed.
Logisticians are using the NIPRnet to exchange parts status, as other support areas are using the NIPRnet to send vital information across the network.
Also, like so many other business and government enterprises, the Defense Department has been under tremendous pressure to increase efficiency and effectiveness. As we've done that, I am not aware of a single business area in the department that hasn't used information technology to derive at least some of those efficiencies. I believe much of the growth in the recent past is a result of systems being put online to do those things.GCN:'About DISA's focus on a customer service approach to DISN'are you adopting a more commercial model for DISN services?
SKOCH: We are a component of the Defense Department, and our focus will always be on meeting warfighters' needs. So I think we need to be careful when we suggest that we are adopting commercial models for our business.
Much of what we do closely approximates what our colleagues in business do. We operate much of the DISN as a defense working capital fund operation, being obligated to charge our customers what it costs us to provide the service we provide.
And while I am passionate about riveting our focus on making our customers delighted with what we offer them, I don't believe one can ever make a business case for much of what we do.
When a part of a joint task force needs thin-line NIPRnet connectivity to a remote island in the Pacific, no commercial carrier would even consider providing it'there's little or no money in it.
And when a bomber squadron deploying to a contingency airbase in a remote part of Europe needs a SIPRnet drop, commercial carriers won't be fighting for that small piece of business. Yet DISA is justifiably expected to provide precisely those kinds of services every day, and we are happy to.
So while much of the DISN is and will model commercial practices, some of it never will.GCN:'Lt. Gen. Raduege also has said that Defense organizations are using the Internet more and more to transport information. Who's using the Internet more and why? How does growth in Internet use fit with DISN? What about security when using the Internet?
SKOCH: I don't have the benefit of the context of Gen. Raduege's comments, but I can say that we are highly dependent on the Internet for a number of things. As our department has teamed increasingly with industry through competitive outsourcing, we find ourselves of necessity exchanging more information across the boundaries of the Internet.
Further, DOD is moving as fast as we can into the world of business-to-business information exchange. It makes sense to buy goods and services and to obtain support for the weapon and support systems we have electronically whenever it's appropriate. And, of course, we use the Internet in our own support operations.
All of these effects have become increasingly pronounced in the recent past and in my opinion contribute to the dramatic growth we have seen in Internet use. Security is always a concern, and that's why it is essential that we continue the defense-in-depth strategy we have adopted in DOD networks. The Internet can be a dangerous place, but we are working hard to mitigate the risks of Internet access and to balance those risks against the business and operational benefits that use brings us.GCN:'Generally, what are the major security concerns for DOD networking?
SKOCH: Our networks are our lifeblood. In the past, military forces relied significantly on physical lines of communication'supply lines, air bridges and shipping lanes. We still do.
But today'in the year 2000'we have become so keenly dependent on our networks that we can't afford to be any less aware or protective of our networks than armies have been of their traditional lines of communication.
We employ a defense-in-depth strategy that protects our systems with a variety of measures that ensure the availability of the information our military relies so heavily on.
We are aware that threats come in a variety of forms, from malicious logic inserted as attachments to e-mail, to hard attacks against Web pages. We take those threats, as well as potential insider threats, very seriously.