Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Army’s E-mail Move to the DISA Cloud


A congressional subcommittee allowed only $1.7 million to be spent from the Army’s FY12 request for $85.4 million to move e-mail to DISA. * The Army has proposed such migration for approximately one million e-mail accounts with an expected saving of $100 million/year starting in 2013.
The subcommittee has asked for a business-case to justify such a move. It has also asked for the Army to show why the guidance to evaluate commercial cloud services, as called for in the 2011 Defense Authorization Act, was not followed.
To make the move the Army will upgrade the current Microsoft Exchange mail. This will eliminate a workload from Army’s data centers and place it within DISA. As result DISA will operate Army’s e-mail in an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) mode. Microsoft Office products will remain on local computers. This will reduce savings as compared to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings where all user software is hosted on the cloud. Such services are now available from commercial sources for a flat fee.
There are good reasons for proposing the move of e-mail into a cloud environment though IaaS offers only partial improvements. The existing e-mail environment in the Army is broken up into 15 separate enclaves (forests). These deliver a plethora of organization-specific email systems. Some Army bases operate separate data centers for processing e-mail. What the Army proposes will certainly meet the OMB requirement to cut the number of data centers but the results will be only a shift from smaller computer farms into the much larger DISA megacenters.
The Army e-mail has estimated annual operating costs in excess of $400 million, with an estimated per person cost of at least $400. **
E-mail users, who must operate across organizational boundaries, are limited to compatible access devices. E-mail is hindered by reduced capabilities when interacting with other DoD personnel.  Deployed forces must carry additional e-mail support equipment when relocating to expeditionary locations or lose connectivity for extended periods of time. 
Existing Army servers are operating only at a fraction of capacity and IaaS virtualization would improve server utilization. However, this will not diminish administrative and support operating costs, which far exceed server capital costs.
Soldiers would have a single mail address but would not be assured interoperability with diverse devices and allied commands.
An IaaS service will allow the expansion of available e-mail storage from 200 megabytes to 4 gigabytes, but that is insufficient for storage of video and graphic files that currently dominate social network traffic.
The Army currently operates with a 2003 version of Microsoft software and will upgrade that to a 2010 version. That does not include the cost of upgrading to Window 7 on desktops and laptops.
SUMMARY
The prosed relocation of e-mail from Army facilities to a cloud environment is long overdue. A properly designed secure and redundant cloud e-mail service will reduce costs, improve up-time availability and increase response time. It will reduce the risks of security intrusions that depend on e-mail for gaining access to DoD networks.
However, the proposal to implement a partial IaaS version of e-mail is inadequate. The $85.4 FY12 funding request for migrating e-mail to a DISA is not a complete business case. Life cycle costs of moving e-mail and related functions into the cloud environment involve operating expenses as well as development, support and administrative costs. Therefore the Army proposal should be evaluated as a program that would take several years to complete.
The total costs of ownership of e-mail in an IaaS environment must include all administrative, communications, development and maintenance costs of not only DISA but also of whatever remains with the Army.
The current proposal should include the total cost of ownership of secure SaaS cloud computing. The costs for such services, which include additional applications that are not currently covered in the Army proposal, are now available commercially for $50 per person. 

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