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What Color Is Your Money?

February 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

The Defense Department has a spending problem and must be reined in. The solution, however, goes far beyond simplistic budget cutting efforts such as across-the-board sequestration. It involves a fundamental cultural shift from both our appropriators and our subordinate-level commanders.

The past 10 years have been a financial boon for the military. This was true even as the rest of the U.S. economy was beset by recession and increasing unemployment. In 2001, the Defense Department base budget was $290.5 billion (in fiscal year 2012 dollars). By 2011, this amount had risen to $526.1 billion, excluding the funding required to sustain the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Beyond the rapid increase in the overall budget, a more pervasive and concerning trend exists: the incredible waste and inefficiency brought by established interests more concerned with keeping the spigot of money flowing than with winning wars.

Part of this is because of the ease with which the military has received unfettered access to our nation’s treasure. Because it is politically unpatriotic to question the military—and by extension, the appropriations it requests—Congress has acquiesced in pouring money into anything earmarked defense. Ironically, many of the same politicians who decry throwing money at education to improve schools hardly bat an eye when doing the same for defense.

Additionally, the constancy and security of military funding psychologically insulates the recipients of such largess from the realities of a constrained resource environment. This can lead to indifference when managing resources, especially those funded by “other people’s money”—in this case, the U.S. taxpayer.

Technology Is Good, but People Are Better

January 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

Uncertainty reigns in warfare, and it is impossible to fully understand the intentions of a capable, thinking adversary in the midst of conflict. Yet, the best counter to this is to have equally adept and creative personnel able to recognize that warfare does not merely consist of armed clashes, but the combination of moral, psychological, economic and political forces.

In a landmark historical incident, the onset of World War I brought about one of the more remarkable chases of 20th century warfare. As Barbara Tuchman describes in her book, “The Guns of August,” with hostilities declared in early August 1914, Germany sought then-neutral Turkey as an ally to mitigate a Russian front to its East. The masterstroke to securing this alliance involved sending the entire German Mediterranean fleet—all of two ships—in a mad dash toward the entrance of the Dardanelles on a diplomatic, not military, mission.

Not expecting this unorthodox move, Britain deployed its numerous ships to protect a French convoy sailing from Africa while also maneuvering to prevent an escape by the Germans through the Straits of Gibraltar. Through the winding fates of war, multiple opportunities were missed to sink the armed German messengers. The once-bold Nelsonian Royal Navy had revealed its evolution toward a technologically superior, but far more untested, conservative one.

The ultimate arrival of the Germans persuaded the Turkish government to renounce neutrality, causing Winston Churchill to later admit this one action caused “more slaughter, more misery and more ruin than has ever before been borne within the compass of a ship.”

Evolution Is Leading Us to Software-Defined Networks

October 1, 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann

 

The next step in the transformation of the U.S. Defense Department systems architecture will be networks defined by software instead of by hardware. Software-based network controls will extend the scope of what currently is limited only to data center operations.

Traditionally, switches and routers have been set separately from what was managed as computing inside the data center. Special-purpose devices were installed to solve specific problems of network management. This resulted in complexity and inflexibility. For example, to change networking data centers, operators had to reconfigure switches, routers, firewalls or Web authentication portals. This required updating virtual local area networks, quality-of-service settings and protocol-based tables with dedicated software tools. Network topology, as well as different software versions, had to be taken into account. Consequently, the networks remained relatively static because operators sought to minimize the risk of service disruption from hardware changes.

Enterprises today operate multiple Internet protocol networks for voice, data, sensor inputs and video. While existing networks can provide custom-made service levels for individual applications, the provisioning of network resources largely is manual. Operators configure each vendor’s equipment and adjust parameters, such as bandwidth, on a per-session, per-application basis. Because of the static nature, networks cannot adapt to changing traffic, application and user demands. With an estimated 15,000 networks in place, the Defense Department has difficulty managing such a proliferation of options.

Thrifty Can Do It for the Defense Department

September 1, 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann

The benefits of virtualization can be extended to thrifty end-users either through public clouds or via private clouds. The time has come to reach out to the millions of user devices that operate in thousands of separately programmable silos that require spending money on labor-intensive overhead. U.S.

Defense Department projects can be brought into a consolidated cloud environment where much lower costs and increased security can deliver immediate benefits.

The May 21, 2012, issue of Forbes magazine describes how start-up firms acquire information technologies without spending much money. These firms use commercial cloud services instead of setting up their own data centers.

There now is a flood of commercial offerings for low-cost cloud computing solutions. Thought should be given to switching smaller Defense Department projects to deployments through Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). More than 2,000 such projects now exist in the Defense Department.

New projects need not be encumbered with the burden of elaborate planning, cost justification, development and acquisition of computers as dictated by existing directives. Instead, the department can adopt the method for setting up new projects inexpensively and instantly. This can be done in weeks, not months or years. An experimental system can be tried without much risk and for a small investment. Innovative applications can be tested and even discarded without committing to a multiyear stream of cost. After a new project demonstrates its suitability, it always can be scaled up.

Forbes illustrated the benefits of thrifty computing for a small venture firm:

Old Defense Department Silos Must Be Swept Out

August 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann

In last month’s column, I reported that there were 2,904 separately funded fiscal year 2012 information technology budgets. Many of these would be set up to operate their own and incompatible networking, storage, server, operating systems, middleware or control commands.

The Defense Department Must Account for its Information Technology Silos

July 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

Among many definitions, the Oxford dictionary defines a silo as a process that operates in isolation. In the U.S. Defense Department, everyone works in separate components. Computer silos have proliferated with the availability of a huge number of customized information technology solutions.

How Efficient Is the Management of Defense Enterprise Systems?

June 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

In March, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) delivered to the House Armed Services Committee a report on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. These ERPs would be replacing legacy systems costing $890 million per year. Replacing such systems would take anywhere from seven to 14 years. However, when the ERPs finally are installed, they would cost up to $207,561 per user and have a payback time frame as high as 168 years.

The Efficiency of Defense Department Information Technology Spending

May 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

Any aggregation of computers, software and networks can be viewed as a “cloud.” The U.S. Defense Department is actually a cloud consisting of thousands of networks, tens of thousands of servers and millions of access points. The department’s fiscal year 2012 spending for information technologies is $38.4 billion. This includes the costs of civilian and military payroll as well as most information technology spending on intelligence. The total Defense Department cloud could be more than $50 billion, which is 10 times larger than the budget of the 10 largest commercial firms. So, the question is: How efficient is the Defense Department in making good use of its information technology?

Now May Be the Time for Defense Department Enterprise Email

April 1, 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

Email is the most attractive application for leading to implementation of a Defense Department enterprise-wide strategy. Email features are generic and functionally identical. It is shared across all components. It is mature. A shared directory of addresses and the security requirements are identical and do not require innovation. Implementing email as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) by an organization such as the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) would offer immediate cost reductions of at least 50 percent. This would serve as a precedent for similar enterprise-wide efforts that could follow.

The Defense Department Has Its Information Systems Strategy--Now What?

March 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann, SIGNAL Magazine

We now have the U.S. Defense Department information technology enterprise strategy and roadmap. The new direction calls for an overhaul of policies that guide the department’s information systems. Yet, implementation is a challenge, and several issues require the reorientation of how the Defense Department manages information technologies.

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