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Improved Cloud Over the Horizon for Warfighters

November 10, 2011
George I. Seffers, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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U.S. Army officials are planning improvements to the Army’s mobile cloud computing platform commonly used in Afghanistan. The next version of the Battle Command Common Services (BCCS) system will mark the Army’s first attempt to align the cloud platform with the Common Operating Environment. It will improve interoperability between the operations and intelligence communities, ultimately improving situational awareness for warfighters.

 The new version of BCCS will be deployed and tested at the Army’s next Network Integration Evaluation to be held in the spring of 2012. That initial rollout will be followed by a series of incremental upgrades every six months. A primary goal is to align BCCS with the Common Operating Environment (COE), a set of computing technologies and standards designed to enable secure and interoperable applications to be rapidly developed and implemented across a variety of computing environments, including server, mobile, client, devices, sensors and platforms.

 The Army will begin integrating systems for operations and intelligence elements by hosting the systems for both functions on the same server stacks. “The operations and intelligence functions always have to work hand-in-hand to answer where I am, where my friends are and where my enemies are,” explains Lt. Col. Brian Lyttle, USA, product manager for the Strategic Mission Command under the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical. “Ops-intel convergence is an effort to simplify the baselines in the field so that it will reduce cost to the Army overall, as well as increase the interoperability between the various systems used by those two very specific communities. It is part of a much larger effort that the Army has called the Common Operating Environment, and this is simply our first edition, or our first increment.”

 BCCS is a server stack with an integrated set of enterprise services and interoperability software that allows the Army to host in a cloud environment a variety of user software and applications, including Command Post of the Future, All Source Analysis System and other battle command systems used within an operations center. It is deployed with more than 490 active Army and Reserve units down to the battalion level, meaning it must meet the demands of a wide array of users. “We’re not just limited to the combat forces; it also goes to the combat support, service support and generating force folks here in the states,” Col. Lyttle reveals. “We’re trying to take care of a very diverse crowd.”

 Still, it is best suited for combat use, says Jim Clarke, assistant product manager for BCCS. “Our solution is most perfectly suited for a Brigade Combat Team. If you asked us what our sweet spot was, a BCT implementation is what we do best. But our solution, including our servers and the way we employ them, scales up and down based on the amount of horsepower you need to execute the mission and what networks you’re on,” Clarke adds.

 The upgrade will also integrate the second increment of the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical—the Army’s on-the-move, high-speed, high-capacity backbone communications network linking warfighters on the battlefield with the Global Information Grid. With any upgrade, they also have to consider such things as size, weight, power, scalability, survivability and redundancy. The Army is currently on BCCS version four. In an effort to keep up with technological advances, they assess potential upgrades about every two years.

 Although Army officials have not yet chosen all of the technologies and products to be included in the upgrade, they confirm that NetApp FAS2240 is among the offerings. Just announced this week, the product is designed to dramatically improve server storage without a significant cost increase. NetApp has been part of the BCCS team since 2006.

 “We’re going through the planning processes right now. We’re doing the systems engineering and analysis to determine the needs of all the different communities and, hopefully, move forward with a common solution for everyone,” Col. Lyttle says.