What's Brewin': Inside the world of defense information technology

Army headquarters just loves iTunes.

Army HQ Just Loves iTunes

That's what Gary Winkler, director of governance, acquisition and Chief Knowledge Office in the Army Chief Information Officer shop discovered earlier this year when he launched an Automated Discovery Tool to search for applications residing on the network serving the Department of the Army Headquarters in the Pentagon.

Winkler, who spoke July 12 at the Army IT conference sponsored by the AFCEA International chapter, said the tool ferreted out 190 PCs on the HQDA network that had an iTunes account. He discovered that another 54 computers at nearby Ft. Belvoir, Va., also had iTunes software.

While Apple's Steve Jobs most likely would be pleased with this endorsement of iTunes in a top-level Army network, Winkler was not. He had the software removed.

I asked Winkler if he could identify the iFans by pay grade or rank, and he punted, saying the discovery tool only zeroes in on IP addresses, not individual end users. Since it is relatively easy to associate an IP address with an end user, I think Winkler sidestepped the question to save embarrassing some high-ranking folks.

We do know that iTunes has some stellar users wearing Army green. Lt. Gen David Melcher, the Army's military budget deputy, told the conference that he was an iTunes user -- but only on his home account.

The Thin Client Solution

About every five years or so, some top official in the Pentagon rediscovers the virtues of thin clients - those monitors and keyboards connected to a central server that stores applications and provides network connections. And this week Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the new Army CIO-in-waiting, touted their virtues in a talk that had more than a bit of déjà vu.

Sorenson said PCs pose real security threats, and end users just can't keep from tinkering with them, adding programs - such as iTunes - or copying classified information onto thumb drives and then sticking those drives into an unclassified box.

Thin clients eliminate these problems, as they have central storage and management and "are a better way to secure our networks," Sorenson told the Army IT conference.

But beyond improved security, the service has not been able to identify any real return on investment yet, an indication that the Army's current thin client trial may go no further than a current pilot at schools run by the Network Enterprise Technology Command in Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Until Thin Client Valhalla arrives, Winkler said he plans to deploy the discovery tool on networks Army-wide. So now is probably a good time for iTunes fans throughout the Army to start uninstalling the software.

Hug Your Servers

Vern Bettencourt, Army deputy CIO, told the conference that in the modern Net-enabled Army, a commander starts his day by doing PT, holding morning call for the troops and going to the computer room "to hug his servers."

But base and unit commanders better get a lot of hugs in soon, Bettencourt said, as the Army consolidates its computer infrastructure at central facilities known as Area Processing Centers (APCs).

The service has consolidated its server infrastructure in Europe into two APCs, Sorenson said, and has turned on the first two centers in the United States (one in Oklahoma City and another in Columbus, Ohio, both co-located with Defense Information Systems Agency computer centers).

The Army also plans to set up one or more APCs to provide central computing power in the Mideast, Asia and the Pacific as well as other centers in the United States. But since the basic building blocks of APCs are snap-in blade servers, there is a possibility that the two existing centers could handle the job for all Army units and installations in the United States, Melcher said.

What's What With Wimax?

Sorenson views commercial, broadband wireless technologies such as short-range Wi-Fi (whose range can be measured in feet) and long-range Wimax (whose range is measured in miles) as a good way to serve bandwidth-deprived tactical end users.

But Wimax is viewed with alarm at the top levels of the Defense Department because its gear, operating in the 3.4-3.6 gigahertz band, has the tendency to knock out military radars operating in the same band.

John Grimes, assistant secretary of Defense for networks and integration, issued a policy memo in February barring the use of Wimax gear throughout Defense.

Grimes, I'm told, also is pushing hard to have a strong anti-Wimax position endorsed by the U.S. delegation to the World Radio Conference, which meets in Geneva in October. However, a big commercial Wimax push backed by giants such as Intel may override the Defense position, I'm told.

The Best Thing About Being a Woman (at SOCom)

The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCom) is the last male bastion in the Defense Department - field operators such as SEALS, Rangers and Green Berets are all men - but SOCom does have a few women working at its headquarters in Tampa, Fla. And Col. Lee Price, the SOCom acquisition deputy, said working in a mostly male environment does have one distinct advantage: "There's never a line for the ladies room."

It Tastes Like Chicken

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of SOCom, and the command had an informal contest to come up with a slogan to mark the anniversary, Price said. SOCom officially selected a stylized shield, emblazoned with a spear piercing the number 20 and the words "Proven - Vigilant - Prepared." But Price said she thought one of the unofficial slogans better summed up the command, whose operators do not take themselves too seriously: "Twenty Years of Eating Snake, and It Still Tastes Like Chicken."