Sep 01 2011

Overcoming Hurdles

DOD is making progress in building a fully redundant, highly available e-mail system that will let every user access critical information from anywhere.

Users who have experienced problems with the Defense Department’s Enterprise Email system must be persistent in working with technical support staff to resolve issues if the system is to continue to make progress, a manager of the program said.

Numerous users voiced frustration with the e-mail system during a presentation at the recent LandWarNet conference in Tampa, Fla. But John E. Hale of the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Computing Services Directorate told them that following up on their complaints will ensure that DISA addresses the issues, which will help the agency as it builds out a private cloud on which the system will reside.

The Army began migrating users to Enterprise Email in February, and the plan is to roll out the system to 3.7 million DOD users, who will receive e-mail addresses in the domain. The single, unified system is intended to improve military IT capabilities and reduce costs.

“We want everyone to be able to go anywhere in the department, log in and be productive,” Hale said.

The System

With Enterprise Email, DISA aims to create a fully redundant, highly available system that provides greater capacity than previous military systems (at least 512 megabytes of storage for all users, but 4 gigabytes for most). The system, based on Microsoft Exchange 2010, currently operates over the military’s Non-secure IP Router Network (NIPRNet). DISA will bring the system online over its Secret IP Router Network (SIPRNet) for classified data in 2012.

A user logs into Enterprise Email with the Common Access Card, a military-issued ID that contains public-key infrastructure certificates to validate the user’s identity. The level of access each user receives is based on the level granted by the card. The system relies on the largest Active Directory database in the world outside of Microsoft, Hale said.

Pod Operations

The cloud infrastructure for the Enterprise Email system is built into pods — self-contained installations with all the hardware needed to maintain Enterprise Email — located at military bases across the United States, in addition to a handful of international sites. The pods — each of which can provide service for 107,000 users — also serve as failover points for each other. For example, if the pod in Oklahoma City experiences a failure, its e-mail function automatically switches over to the pod in Columbus, Ohio.

The rollout has had its share of hurdles. DISA paused migrations to Enterprise Email in May to assess progress and users’ experiences and to address issues that had cropped up. Migrations have since started back up, and 90,000 users are now on the system. Users can access the system using Microsoft Outlook or through a web browser. The system also offers BlackBerry service, but DISA wants to make it device-independent, so users can access Enterprise Email through other devices, such as smartphones, Hale said.

A common complaint during the LandWarNet presentation was that users frequently experienced latency in their e-mail operations. Hale reiterated the need for users to file trouble tickets with the help desk whenever such problems arise, rather than simply accepting substandard service.