DISA is Piloting Software-Defined Solutions for the DoD

Posted by Alexander Rossino on July 14, 2015


The Department of Defense is interested in emerging technology.  Budget constraints, pressure from international competitors, and threats in the cyber domain, however, are pushing the DoD to consider inserting new technologies, like Software Defined (SD) solutions, into the nascent Joint Information Environment. Leveraging Software Defined Networking, Storage, and Infrastructure, can vastly improve the security of DoD’s systems, networks, and data, but stovepiped systems and antiquated networks have been roadblocks thus far. Moving to the JIE is slowly changing this and that evolution is gradually enabling the DoD to explore wider use of SD solutions.

The beating heart of this activity is the Chief Technology Officer’s office at the Defense Information Systems Agency. Dave Bennett’s group, working in coordination with the DoD Chief Information Officer, staked out a position on SD solutions in DISA’s budget request for fiscal 2016. There, under the Defense Information Infrastructure Engineering and Integration line item, the CTO outlines a request for $10.1 million for emerging technologies related to the DoD Information Network, or DoDIN. The FY 2016 request is a $1.5 million increase over estimated funding received in FY 2015 to “evaluate, develop, and implement a number of emerging technological innovations … such as future infrastructure architectures, cyber security, software defined networks, big data solutions, cloud computing, mobile computing, mobile applications, wireless, social media, and knowledge management systems and services.”

The DISA CTO and Enterprise Wide Systems Engineering (EWSE) organization clearly hope to get a lot of mileage out of a $10.1 million investment. Consider, for example, this description of how SDN fits as part of a broader modeling and simulation effort that is intended to improve transport network capabilities. In FY 2016, the EWSE “will examine [the] application of Software Defined Networking (SDN) technologies for Core Data Centers and [the] DISN. The results will be socialized with the DoD community for action/adoption or further development. Where appropriate, the results will also be documented in GIG Technical Profiles (GTP) for compliance by the Programs of Record (POR).”

This is a key paragraph, noting that the EWSE will pilot SDN for all of the DoD. Basically, DISA is laying the ground work for the eventual adoption of SDN by the entire Department of Defense.

The second part of the Defense Information Infrastructure Engineering and Integration line item that has an SD component is DoDIN Systems Engineering and Support, for which $4.1 million has been requested in FY 2016. Central to this effort will be the development of a “Technology Environment (TE), composed of the technical infrastructure, associated processes, practices, and methodologies that are used to evaluate and characterize new technologies.” Dedicated “innovation funds will continue to explore, develop, and deliver emerging technologies, including cloud cervices, future infrastructure architectures, cyber security, software defined anything, big data, cloud computing, mobile computing, mobile applications, [and] wireless.”

These efforts are already translating into procurement actions. Back in December 2014 DISA’s Software Defined Networking (SDN) Workgroup released a Sources Sought Notice (MAC0098) for technical support implementing “proof of concept (POC), pilot, and demonstrations for tech insertion of Software Defined Networks (SDN) within the Department of Defense Information Network (DoDIN).” This document provides significantly more detail on how DISA intends to use SD solutions, including for developing inter Core Data Center (iCDC) “Trusted Zone” connectivity via an SDN enabled enclave and for the Automated Provisioning and Maintenance of a Service (L2 Private LAN).

So, the good news is that the DoD is interested in moving forward with SD solutions. The less good news is that progress will be slow and there aren’t a lot of contract dollars currently dedicated to the effort. Industry should expect this to change in the next couple of years, however, as the JIE matures and as DISA acquires greater understanding of available SD solutions and where they fit within the DoDIN. Once they get their legs under them, expect the CTO and EWSE to push forward spending on SD solutions for DISA and the rest of the DoD.