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System Update: Pentagon Upgrading 4 Million Devices to Windows 10

A Dell laptop computer running Windows 10 is on display at the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco.

A Dell laptop computer running Windows 10 is on display at the Microsoft Build conference in San Francisco. // Jeff Chiu/AP

The Defense Department plans to upgrade 4 million devices across its various branches to the seven-month-old Windows 10 operating system.

Microsoft officially announced the news today, almost three months after DOD Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen – with Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s blessing – put the Pentagon’s components on notice to prepare for the move.

DOD’s timeline for the move is aggressive, aiming to have full deployment of Windows 10 by January 2017 “to improve our cybersecurity posture, lower the cost of IT and streamline the IT operating environment,” Halvorsen wrote in November.

Halvorsen’s memo suggests a “Secretary of Defense Execution Order” is forthcoming with details gleaned from a joint Secure Host Baseline working group – composed of officials from the Defense Information Systems Agency and the National Security Agency – to prepare a Windows 10 standard desktop framework.

Richard Hale, deputy CIO for cybersecurity at DOD, confirmed the Windows 10 rollout Wednesday at an event hosted by FCW.

“We are rolling out Windows 10 aggressively as a department,” Hale said. “We’re trying to do that as an IT and cyber thing combined.”

Hale added that DOD “has not made a commitment to a single phone operating system yet.”

Microsoft is touting the news as evidence of Windows 10’s superior security over previous OS the company offered. DOD will replace all current Microsoft operating systems with Windows 10 unless mission owners get a waiver from DOD’s Office of the CIO.

“From laptops to desktops to mobile devices, including Surface devices, the DOD is targeting its Windows 10 upgrade for completion in a year, an unprecedented move for a customer with the size and complexity of the DOD,” said Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group, in a blog post Wednesday.

Analysts tell Nextgov the announcement makes DOD a “poster child” for other large-scale organizations looking to modernize systems. DOD currently runs a large number of systems with outdated software, including Windows XP, which is a 15-year-old operating system. DOD’s transition, coupled with the Obama administration’s push to modernize the government’s legacy IT systems, makes it a very public use case for civilian agencies dealing with the same troubles.

“Interesting part here is the fact that you have a very large, and frankly, like most government organizations, a conservative organization taking on a very rapid transition to a new operating systems,” said market research analyst Bob O’Donnell. “If you’ve got an organization as large , conservative and security-conscious as DOD publicly proclaim their rapid move, this should serve as a wake-up call to those large organizations and agencies sitting on the fence (about modernizing their systems).

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