DISA: Systems too 'brittle' for net-centricity

One of the next big challenges awaiting the Defense Department as it moves toward net-centric operations will be keeping its services flexible, said Richard Hale, engineering technical director for the Defense Information Systems Agency.

DISA is starting to find that today's systems are too brittle. They are set up to work one way and could have difficulty with new missions.

'We're starting to experience this peculiarity already,' Hale said. 'We think there is huge unexplored territory in fragility, and it is scaring the hell out of us.'

Hale spoke today at the Defense Department University Research Initiative Workshop in Annapolis, Md. The workshop is being held by the deputy undersecretary of Defense for science and technology, with the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Like most large enterprises, DOD wants to consolidate its networks under a single architecture, making use of the Internet wherever possible, Hale said. Today, the agency maintains SIPRNet for classified communications, NIPRNet and the public Internet for unclassified information and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System for top-secret information. Eventually, the agency wants to merge its own networks into a single entity, Hale said.

The reason? Cost is one factor, he said; it is too expensive to maintain private networks. Another factor is that many DOD lines of business cross between classified and unclassified networks.

Instead of maintaining separate networks, it would be easier to use state-of-the-art encryption, such as the National Security Agency's emerging High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryption standard, to ensure secure communications, Hale said. The use of multiprotocol label switching, multiservice provisioning and IP Version 6 protocols also would help ensure quality of service.

A standard IP network would help offices within the Defense Department share applications and data, Hale said. The agency has been moving toward applications that can be loosely coupled, allowing agencies to draw on services from each other on an ad hoc basis. DISA's own Net-Centric Enterprise Services will offer a set of core applications, such as collaboration, messaging, storage and authentication, that can be used by all military offices.

One of the difficulties Hale foresees is the inability of legacy software to be flexible. While middleware can be used to bridge disparate systems, the applications need to change with mission needs'something they may be too brittle to do today.

(Posted Aug. 17 and updated Aug. 26, 2004)

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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