Hanscom helps Air Force email users gain more capability in the cloud

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Command, Control and Communications Infrastructure Division here is helping lead efforts to migrate the Air Force’s unclassified email systems to the cloud.

Known as Collaboration Pathfinder, the project uses Microsoft Office 365 services and allows for increased capabilities. For example, with email, the massive pathfinder allows for larger email boxes, up to 100 gigabytes, with an additional 100 GB of archive storage, while ensuring the current ability to secure emails. It also provides a level of redundancy in systems the Air Force has desired, as data is duplicated at multiple data centers in real time.

Ten bases were selected as the first to transition with Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, being the first to fully transition, on Jan. 27, followed closely by Malmstrom AFB, Montana.

“It’s been a positive experience so far, with users being appreciative of the larger email size and no users losing any information during the switchover,” said Lt. Col. Randy Flores, program manager. “Due to the larger size, personnel are also not losing emails due to their email boxes being full.”

Goodfellow AFB, Texas, is now in the process of being completed and next to migrate will be Offutt AFB, Nebraska; Fairchild AFB, Washington; Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; Hanscom; Shaw AFB, South Carolina; Patrick AFB, Florida; and Whiteman AFB, Missouri.

Alan Galster, deputy program manager, says the work has been an “orchestrated ballet” between multiple players. The division here teamed with the Air Force Network Integration Center to collaborate with industry and test the concept. Other partners include the Secretary of the Air Force Chief Information Office, Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, Air Force Space Command, 24th Air Force, Hanscom’s 66th Air Base Group Information Protection Office and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Turning our email on a dime has been more like turning an aircraft carrier than a speed boat,” he said. “People take their email for granted, but we had to work through numerous concerns, including security concerns, and the systems have to be adjusted for 550,000 users.”

Galster noted that prior to the switchover, as this is the first time Air Force email data will be hosted off-premises, the team had to secure approval from DOD for a cloud-security approval, which involved the efforts of all the partners.

Anticipated timelines for completing the transition for each base are from two to three weeks. Holloman’s switchover took approximately three weeks, but the team is hoping to shorten that for other bases.

When first looking at cloud services, the program office did testing with users at Hanscom and Scott AFBs. The team did what they referred to as an “initial shakeout,” ensuring that the users and their processes could be migrated to the cloud. They asked test users to fill out a large checklist about their experience with the cloud and how it was for duplicating the tasks they would normally accomplish on a day-to-day basis. Then, following a 24th Air Force operational review in December 2016, the go-ahead came for these first 10 bases.

“It’s been a crawl, walk, run process,” said Galster. “And our goal was for the user experience to be as good as current or better.”

One of their test users at Hanscom said she’s been pleased by the transition so far.

“Not having to clean out your mailbox once or twice a day has been a real pleasure,” said Erin O’Brien, Division SharePoint IPT lead. “99 Gig plus remaining in my mailbox is great.” O’Brien also noted that she and other test users who have migrated to the cloud do not get the “blue spinning wheel” as often.

Flores and Galster say that one of the lessons learned so far is that bases and users need to be ready for the transition. Bases must have the necessary software and patches, while users need to follow the directions provided to them.

“Everyone has to be committed to migrate,” said Flores. “It’s a huge team effort.”

Future efforts involve implementing programs such as Skype for Business and Enterprise SharePoint as cloud collaboration tools.

“This is such an important project for the Air Force,” said Flores. “There are lots of eyes on us as a Pathfinder and what we do now sets the stage for DOD for future cloud-based services.”