Net-centricity starts with data

Admins warned to get moving on labeling, tagging

Army Capt. Chad Foster reports via radio during an air assault raid in Mushahda, Iraq, in June; tactical radio communication is among the pillars of DOD's net-centric plans.

Courtesy of DEFENSELINK; photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Larson, U.S. Navy

Military database administrators who have not already tagged and labeled their data had better get busy.

Marian T. Cherry, horizontal fusion portfolio manager in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, has warned military IT personnel that they risk falling behind the net-centricity curve if they do not accomplish these tasks.

'People ask me where they should start with network-centric operations,' Cherry said recently at the Defense Network Centric Operations 2006 Conference in Arlington, Va. 'I tell them to first tag their data for content and label it for security. That is the most important thing anyone can do, even if they are not prepared to become full participants in network-centric operations right now.'

A metadata tag placed on a data object lets it be indexed for content. By attaching labels to objects, users get an audit trail, can more easily classify the data and improve information security.

Horizontal fusion is a DOD technology strategy that focuses on posting data and sharing it across functional areas. 'Horizontal fusion provides analysts and warfighters with net-centric applications and content,' Cherry said.

DOD initiated Horizontal Fusion to accelerate the implementation of the Global Information Grid, a set of interconnected classified and unclassified systems. The strategy had its genesis after Sept. 11, 2001, when information sharing among military and government agencies became a paramount goal.

Other pillars of DOD's net-centric transformation program, according to Cherry, include the Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion (GIG-BE) program, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), wideband satellite communications, Net-Centric Enterprise Services (NCES) and information assurance.

Net-Centric Enterprise Services embodies service-oriented architecture, which was selected 'as the path to follow to implement network-centric operations,' Cherry said. Information assurance exposes data only to those who are allowed access to it.

'The SOA framework provides a design for interoperability in an environment which houses services,' Cherry said. 'Data, tools and applications are all known as services and are attached in an interoperable fashion to an environment where people can find them through a registry.'

Users can then access services such as data and applications and combine them to create new modules that help them in their work.

'It doesn't matter what network or platform they are on or which operating system they are running,' Cherry said.

Tagging and labeling, Cherry said, are a prerequisite for the net-centric use of data. She added that tools are available for the automated tagging and labeling of data. 'These can save time, energy and resources,' she said.

One military organization, which Cherry declined to name, discovered a tactic to tag massive volumes housed in data stores.

'They have all data types registered in a Yellow Pages type of registry,' she said. 'Then they put in a program that tags the data as it is retrieved by users and labels it at the same time. The data is reinserted into the data store as tagged and labeled.'

Readying data for net-centric applications weighs heavily at the Marine Corps, according to Ron Harris, an IT architecture analyst at Marine Corps headquarters, who also spoke at the conference.

'We have disparate data sets,' Harris said. 'At the end of the day, the issue boils down to whether we have a body of data worth passing across the wire.'

The Marines' intent, Harris said, is 'to build a body of information where the architecture is managed as whole.' The key to achieving that aim, he added, is to 'take data away from those who think they own it.'

'Everybody thinks they own their data,' he said. 'The Marine Corps owns its enterprise data, and, ultimately, it's DOD's data.'

Individual units that implemented data point solutions saw their projects 'die on the vine,' Harris said, because 'they were not repeatable processes.'

The key to the ultimate net-centric utility of massive volumes of data is bandwidth, Harris added.

And that is why, for Cherry, organizations need to get organized now.

'When the infrastructure is more robust, you'll be prepared,' she said. 'The last thing DOD needs to hear is that you need another four or five years to get up to speed.

'Get started now,' she admonished. 'Otherwise you will be irrelevant.'

About the Author

Peter Buxbaum is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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