Army portal team tests new apps

Eventually, 'all the knowledge in the Army will be accessible through the site.'

'Army Deputy CIO David Borland

Henrik G. DeGyor

The Army Knowledge Online portal last month began user pilots, testing new features ranging from planning and collaboration software to disaster recovery applications.

The portal also is providing users access to the MarketPlace Direct e-commerce program. MarketPlace Direct lets Defense Department and civilian agencies place orders for IT products and services sold on General Services Administration schedule contracts.

The site uses Secure Sockets Layer and could employ the Army's reverse proxy program, an added security measure that protects against hacker attacks, said Marian Keitelman, product leader of MarketPlace Direct. She spoke at the recent Army Small Computer Program's IT Conference.

Users who are logged on to AKO can access the e-commerce site directly, without having to log on again, Keitelman said.

Among the new features being tested during the AKO pilots are purchasing, messaging and collaboration applications, and disaster recovery capabilities.

Some accounts on AKO will run the newest version of Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, others will continue to use the current AKO platform, Sun Microsystems' Sun One Messaging Server.
Exchange offers features that the Sun system cannot match, said Col. Timothy Fong, chief technology officer for the Army Knowledge Office. Exchange Server 2003 messages have richer text and more security features than Sun One messages, he said.

Another pilot will test IBM Lotus Sametime software for planning and collaboration. Its features include virtual meetings, whiteboarding, and voice and video over IP tools. The Army will also test AKO's disaster recovery capabilities. Fong declined to reveal where the Army would host the portal's backup services.

'The objective is to have two identical sites so you don't know where your traffic is going,' he said.

Army Knowledge Online uses an instant-messaging app from Bantu Inc. of Washington, as do sites run by the Navy and Air Force.

Interservice chatter

The Army is researching an initiative to extend its IM capabilities to the Navy and Air Force, so soldiers can chat with other services' members, Fong said.

Because the Bantu app can run on multiple platforms, soldiers can chat with friends and family members on other instant-messaging apps, but Fong said the capability has been temporarily removed while the Army decides how to manage the messages.

'There were a lot of complaints that chat sessions were getting out of control,' Fong said.

Plus, an information assurance policy released by DOD in February limits the exposure Defense networks have to commercial networking links. But Army leaders are reviewing the policy and will determine if there is a way to include some IM capabilities linking to commercial networks by adding layered security, Fong said.

AKO is a key component of the Army's effort to change the way it does business, deputy CIO David Borland said.

The portal has helped the Army move from maintaining duplicative Web sites to an enterprise portal.

About 250,000 users log on to AKO daily and download more than 2 million files from more than 315 community pages, Borland said.

'We are doing lots of things today through AKO,' he said. 'We're headed in the right direction: a ubiquitous, addressable, any-place-in-the-world capability to access information, to access knowledge that we have gained over' the nearly 230 years since the service was founded in 1775.

Eventually, Borland said, 'all the knowledge in the Army will be accessible through the site.'

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