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Army plans for transition to Windows 10 by next year

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 04, 2016) -- By sometime next year, the Army, along with its sister services, will have updated many of the computer systems currently running the Microsoft Windows operating system to the latest version, Windows 10.

Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter made the announcement, March 3, while visiting with military leaders in Seattle, Washington.

By sometime in 2017, the Army, along with its sister services, will have updated many of the computer systems currently running the Microsoft Windows operating system to the latest version, Windows 10.

"Microsoft has been a great partner to DOD," Carter said. "We're making a department-wide transition over the next year to the much more secure Windows 10 operating system. This is a big deal. It's unprecedented for both DOD, and I believe for Microsoft as well. And it means that 4 million desktops, laptops and tablets will be better equipped inherently to defend themselves against cyber threats."

The Army has already been collaborating with the Department of Defense chief information officer and preparing a "transition roadmap" that will determine when systems, locations and units will get the new software, how it will be deployed, and how the effort will be resourced.

The Army has both a strategic-level team and operational-level team assigned to make the transition happen. The strategic team provides governance and oversight, and is headed by the Army's CIO/G-6. The operational team, made up of Second Army, Network Enterprise Technology Command and others, is responsible for the implementation of the transition plan.

Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell, the Army's chief information officer and G-6, said the Army will derive a number of important benefits from its migration to the Windows 10 operating system.

"It will enhance the Army's cybersecurity posture and improve the efficiency of our IT environment," Ferrell said. "Moving to a single operating system also affords increased consistency across the Army's systems and devices. This optimizes our ability to perform upgrades, deploy security patches and execute other critical tasks, because we're working with one operating system."

Ferrell also said because it's not just the Army moving to Windows 10, but the entirety of DOD, there will also be benefits derived from the efficiencies of interoperability.

"The migration will improve interoperability with our joint partners and ensure the Army is synchronized with those we work with throughout DOD," he said.

Col. Mark E. Orwat, chief of the installation and integration division within Army CIO/G-6, said such interoperability is in line with the Army's network campaign plan.

"It ensures that the Army has the best technology available in order to enhance our security posture, improve interoperability, and increase standardization of our enterprise-level processes," he said.

In some cases, the transition to Windows 10, for desktop users in an office environment for instance, might involve a "tech refresh." As older machines are retired, newer machines will be configured with the Army's approved installation of Windows and desktop software.

For machines now running Windows 7, users recognize "Army Gold Master" as that approved configuration. The Army expects to implement something similar with Windows 10, said those familiar with the matter.

But the effort to migrate the Army to Windows 10 involves more than just updating the desktop or laptop computers of those who check email or run spreadsheets in offices. The Windows operating system runs on a variety of Army computer systems, including medical and tactical systems. On some of those systems, users may even be unaware that they are running a Windows OS. The backbone operating system may be Windows technology, said a CIO/G-6 subject matter expert, though the user interface doesn't include the familiar desktop or icons.

For computers that are part of tactical systems, the transition will be more complex.

Computers that control such equipment, or are installed in them, often run specially configured versions of the Windows operating system, which in turn runs specialty application software designed for the equipment.

The Army, program managers, the vendors who developed the gear, and Microsoft will work together for systems in the Army inventory to ensure that Windows 10 can be run and that the application software for that equipment will be supported by the new OS.

"This is a complex initiative that will eventually touch every end-user system in the Army that is using a version of Microsoft Windows, from business systems to tactical systems such as medical, aviation, tactical and logistics boxes," said Orwat. "The Army's people, technologies, and processes will all be challenged in some form or fashion as we move forward with this widespread migration. We will work jointly with the organizations and units across the Army enterprise to ensure we understand the impacts on the strategic and tactical mission sets."

The services have been coordinating with the DOD CIO, who formally notified the services to be prepared to upgrade systems to Windows 10 in November 2015. The goal is for the services to upgrade many of their systems within approximately one year. At the same time, for systems that prove more complex to transition, and on a case-by-case basis, services have been told they can waive certain systems from upgrade by up to 12 months. Beyond that, they will need DOD approval.

At the CIO/G-6 level, the Army will develop a "road map" for deployment of Windows 10 across the force through the use of data calls that will determine, among other things, how many different types of systems are now running a Windows OS, what versions they are running, where those systems are, and how critical they are.

"We are approaching the Windows 10 migration methodically by setting the conditions that will allow success ... including strategic policies, deployment roadmaps, sustainment assessments (data calls and pilot tests), along with utilizing lessons learned from our previous deployments efforts and those of our partners," Orwat said.