DOD wants instant messaging tools to speak the same language

Department will test multi-vendor IM and chat tools for compliance with XMPP standard

The Defense Department next month will conduct interoperability tests on instant messaging and chat technology that supports the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, representatives from the Defense Information Systems Agency said today at a conference on real-time services in data centers.

DOD is working with industry and the standards community to refine XMPP, a set of Extensible Markup Language technologies for presence and real-time communications developed by the Jabbar open source community in 1999.

High-quality voice and video and instant messaging tools are the types of collaboration technology increasingly in demand by DOD users and coalition partners, said William Brougham, DISA's vice director for network services.

The only real difference between DOD’s use of such collaboration tools and the rest of the government is the need for higher levels of security, Brougham told attendees at a seminar on “The Changing Data Center, Designing for New and Real-time Services” in Washington, D.C. The seminar was sponsored by Federal Computer Week and Juniper Networks.

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To ensure that instant messaging tools can communicate with each other and have the levels of information assurance required by DOD, the department’s Joint Interoperability Test Center will conduct interoperability tests with multiple vendors at facilities in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., in July.

The aim is to demonstrate whether the XMPP standards used commercially are adequate to actually achieve multi-vendor interoperability, said Nicholas Brienza, senior director of engineering, networks and communications solutions for Computer Sciences Corp, a contractor that works with DISA on real-time data center services.

“That is why the DOD is upgrading the specification in our Unified Capability Requirements, so we can achieve that interoperability. We’re beginning that journey in July,” Brienza said.

The DOD-approved XMPP specification is expected to be available in January 2011 and products that support it will be on an approved list, Brienza said. However, DOD will publish drafts of the specification, so vendors can begin developing technologies that support it before next year, he noted.

Brougham elaborated on the level of security such messaging technology would need.

Dealing with coalition partners is providing more of a challenge than dealing with classified information, he said.

“We have to create a construct if we are interacting with the United Kingdom, for example, [in which] messages going to the United Kingdom are only releasable to them and don’t end up in Germany,” he said.

“They are both partners who work with the U.S. in NATO, but if something is not releasable to a country, we have to make sure it doesn’t go to that country,” Brougham said.

“That’s a challenge,” he said, noting that DISA is creating a video system for use in Afghanistan that has to work with multiple networks and still not be exposed.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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