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DISA eyes support for smartphones, plans to offer Microsoft Office in the cloud

The Defense Information Systems Agency plans to add support for Apple iPhones and other smartphones based on the Google-developed Android operating system to its enterprise email system, according to presentations at its Customer and Industry Forum in Baltimore, Md., which ended today.

In addition, the agency disclosed that next January it plans to offer Web versions of Microsoft Office software through a cloud computing environment based in DISA's 14 data centers.

These data centers also support the enterprise email system. DISA currently has an agreement with Microsoft to supply enterprise email from the cloud to 1.4 million Army active-duty, reserve and National Guard personnel, as well as agreements to provide enterprise email to Africa, European, Northern, Strategic and Transportation commands.

Bernie Skoch, an information technology consultant and retired Air Force brigadier general who served at DISA as director for network services from 2000 to2002, said the agency recognizes it needs to keep up with the rest of the world in providing support for the increasingly ubiquitous mobile phones that many people have embraced instead of laptop computers.

Skoch said application-packed mobile phones will efficiently promote mission effectiveness across the Defense Department down to individual warfighters.

DISA's move to support mobile phones and offer Microsoft Office applications in the cloud parallels similar moves by the Veterans Affairs Department, suggesting that the two largest departments in the federal government have embraced these technologies.

Defense has 1.5 million personnel on active-duty, 718,000 civilian employees, and 840,000 reserve and National Guard personnel. VA has slightly more than 300,000 employees. Together, the departments constitute a market of more than 2.8 million end users for mobile phones and Web-based Microsoft Office products.

DISA, in its presentation on mobile phones, did not indicate when it intended to start supporting them, but Skoch said the agency might want to wait until they are encrypted with software that complies with Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2.

Roger Baker, VA's chief information officer, told reporters at a press briefing last month that he plans to take a more pragmatic approach and will not require FIPS certification based. Instead, he will take the risk that encryption provided by vendors is "sufficiently strong."

DISA said it plans to offer both SharePoint collaboration software and Microsoft Office software in its computing cloud starting January 2012 on a trial basis. Last month, VA asked for industry input on hosting collaboration tools in a commercial cloud environment that could include SharePoint software.

Skoch said running complex applications, which could have trapdoors open to hackers, from the cloud will improve security by allowing DISA to lock down applications from a central location.

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