DOD's shared interest

The Defense Department and a number of other agencies have joined a Defense Interest Group established by the networking industry to create the TM Forum for sharing best practices and for collaboration between DOD and the supporting vendors

THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT and several other agencies have joined a Defense Interest Group established by the networking industry to provide a forum for sharing best practices and enhancing collaboration between DOD and the vendors that support its communications infrastructure and applications.

The TM Forum established the interest group in June and added a DIG workshop and session track at its Management World 2008 conference in Orlando in November.

“DOD has made an investment in TM Forum standards and membership,” said Bob Natale, principal engineer at Mitre and co-chairman of DIG. “The Defense Interest Group provides a valuable tool for improved return on investment for the DOD. Our goal in the DOD community is to improve services delivered to the warfighter.”

Other governmental members of DIG include the Homeland Security Department, NATO and NASA, which helps support some DOD satellite communications. The TM in the forum’s name used to stand for telecommunications management, said Ken Dilbeck, the forum’s vice president of collaboration programs.

However, the industry association moved away from that name as it expanded its interests beyond telecom to include the converging cable, Internet and networking industries. Government participation has emerged in recent years because agencies have seen a growing overlap between their needs and concerns and those of commercial carriers and service providers, Dilbeck said.

Taking advantage of industry expertise is in line with DOD’s effort to use commercial products and services whenever possible, said Manuel Hermosilla, chief of the Operational Support Systems Division at the Defense Information Systems Agency.

“We’re not trying to develop our own thing,” said Hermosilla, DOD’s leader for TM Forum participation. “We treat it like any [commercial] product. We want to use what is available.”

What is available from the TM Forum is a standardized way of defining and talking about network management and operations.

“We don’t go down to the interface level that talks to the hardware,” Dilbeck said.

The forum develops frameworks that help systems and enterprises interact and exchange information. It’s more than a casual agreement on definitions, Dilbeck added. “It is an accurate portrayal of accepted business processes, an abstraction of those processes, broken down to enable integration.”

The language and frameworks are not specific to a company or business but instead refer to the network operations common to all of them. That is important in a network-centric environment in which systems are increasingly integrated and called on to cooperate, Hermosilla said.

“It’s a new way of doing business,” he said. “It is hard. You are faced with so many interfaces for each system.”

DOD began working with the TM Forum in 2003, during the Global Information Grid Bandwidth Expansion program, a DISA initiative to expand the capacity and reliability of the existing GIG.

“We had a lot of network management systems we had to integrate, and the TM Forum sounded like a good match for us,” Hermosilla said.

The new and improved GIG reached full operational capability in December 2005. In 2006, Hermosilla became chief of the new Operational Support Systems Division, which sought to integrate all the information systems within the Defense Information Systems Network. DISN serves as GIG’s backbone.

Forum specifications relevant to the defense community include:

  • Enhanced Telecom Operations Map (eTOM), a business process model for information and communications technology service providers that outlines how to support complex network operations environments. They include acquisitions, configuration, deployment, changes to and removal of services, and billing.
  • Shared Information/Data model, an information- and data-modeling methodology for service providers that corresponds to eTOM.
  • TM Forum Interface Program (TIP), which integrates multiple forum interface methodologies.
  • Telecom Applications Map.
  • Service Delivery Framework.
  • New Generation Operations Systems and Software, for common communications vehicles.
“Having this generic vocabulary helps the customers talk with the service providers and systems integrators and helps them to understand their business process needs,” Dilbeck said.

TIP was one of the key tools in the DISN integration. It helped administrators define what information the network management tools needed to exchange, where it was and who owned it, and it allowed the applications to access that information as needed. The tool also let administrators establish a standard interface with one interface per application rather than one for every data source connected to it.

“I don’t see it changing the way we operate the network,” Hermosilla said.

The forum simply addresses the way systems exchange information, in the same way a network carrier would. DOD has some special needs for DISN, and the forum’s frameworks are tweaked and extensions added as needed, he said, “but basically, we’re a carrier.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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