Air Force poised to ramp up migration to Office 365, its deputy CIO says

Bill Marion speaks at MarkLogic's Data Innovation Summit, produced by FedScoop.

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The path to migrating 550,000 Air Force users to Microsoft’s Office 365 has not been without its challenges, but the department’s deputy CIO says the department is at the cusp of full-velocity migration.

The Air Force is in the process of an initial 68,000-user rollout to Office 365, which includes SharePoint, Skype, email and storage, Bill Marion told FedScoop. That operation, which he says is poised to speed up in January, is one of many recent Air Force efforts to migrate legacy IT to the cloud.

“That’s the big next one that we have going because it’s a huge customer base that we’re transitioning,” Marion said.

The 550,000 are all continental U.S. users, but in the future the Air Force would add its oversees users, expanding that total, Marion said.

While many things can and likely will change after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, Marion said the Office 365 migration will likely not be affected by a change in power. The process has been going for awhile, and many of the migrating users are not in the D.C. area, Marion said.

“These are principally outside of the normal reach of impacts like the [presidential] transition is going to do,” he said.

But while the transition is not a stumbling block, that doesn’t mean the project has been easy. One obvious challenge: “We’ve never done this before at this scale,” Marion said, so it’s essential to have “connective tissue” in place to make the move. On the technical side, Marion said, the Air Force built some security mechanisms that it integrated with Microsoft 365.

“That’s been a challenge but we’re working through it — I think we’ve gotten over the big hurdles on that front,” Marion said. “And that’s where, I would say that’s where the real value of industry and government partnership comes in.”

There is, however, “certainly a lot of skepticism on security” because it’s the first time the Air Force has made such a move, he said.

“So we wanted to make sure, again, that we got that 100 percent right,” Marion said, but noted, “Those additional security layers cause an additional integration, which takes time and money.”

In particular, Marion noted that there are technical problems to work through in tying the Air Force’s authentication methods to Microsoft’s cloud based product. And Marion said he didn’t think he and his team knew just how complex it would be.

“That’s one of the holy-grail pieces of a security approach to cloud, so you got to make sure you do that right,” he said.

Going forward, Marion said the real unknown is the “bandwidth implications.”

“You start changing traffic patterns, you start changing ways of working for personnel. … To some degree you have to get users into it and then be able to adjust,” he said. “And that could be bandwidth, it could be network routing, just how application services are provided.”

Contact Samantha via email at samantha.ehlinger@fedscoop.com, or follow her on Twitter at @samehlingerSubscribe to the Daily Scoop for stories like this in your inbox every morning by signing up here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Air Force, Defense Department, Departments, Microsoft, Microsoft Office 365
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