Over 15 years of operations mostly in the Middle East, US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) developed multiple computer networks, some boutique, some unique.
With some 70,000 personnel, USSOCOM probably isn’t that different to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with its diverse mixture of legacy, modern and boutique IT systems.
Overseeing efforts to make some sense of USSOCOM networks was the organisation’s J63, now retired Colonel in charge of IT, Joseph Pishock who’s in Australia for the MilCIS Conference in Canberra.
He said from talking to Australian companies, it appears Australian defence IT networks feature all the same challenges as USSOCOM.
Pishock said any network in any government is 30 years of patchwork and network centric stovepipes which needed to be understood and controlled so proper decisions about future use could be made.
“The first step is figuring out where you are,” he told ADM.
“US Special Operation Command’s network had developed and were guided by 15 years of combat operations in multiple theatres mostly in the CENTCOM area of responsibility. You had a lot of boutique applications. You had a lot of unique networks. They made sense at the time. Now looking forward, do they make sense? Are they affordable.
“Those are the decisions that the commanders have to face because you can’t pay for everything all the time. The first step in making any decision about the future is really knowing where you are today.”
In 2020 USSOCOM embarked on a reform process, starting out employing the network analysis and optimisation tools of US company Riverbed Technology.
“I came down here because I was telling the story to American government and defence saying this worked for us, please do the same,” he said.
Pishock said that process of network mapping helped with future decision-making.
“Did I need everything, could I assume some risk, could I cut some things? Did I now understand that maybe I have a stack of services that haven’t been running because I don’t need them,” he said.
“Do I have fibre links I’m paying for but don’t use. Do I have some services that are overloaded and over-capacity and others that are under-utilised so now I could balance them?”
He said their approach was to work out what was most inconveniencing to the most people.
“Most people were not deployed on a mission on a given day. If you are deployed on a mission, the whole might of USSOCOM will focus on you. We will not allow that to fail,” he said.
That started with the health within data centres and transport between them.
“So, we could reach services we needed every day – video conferencing for command and control and all-important email and Office 365 for daily collaboration for people in the offices,” he said.
“Organisation like the Australian forces chartered with delivering naval effects around the PACOM area of responsibility shouldn’t struggle to get email to a desktop inside a building.”
With a good understanding of the network, there was a better prospect of answering the perennial user question – how come the network is so slow today?
Pishock said in 2020 it couldn’t be known whether the problem was just that person, the whole office, the wing or the entire campus and slow compared to what.
“By 2022, once we had Riverbed fielded and implemented, we were then able to establish that baseline,” he said.