In March 2005, the MoD awarded the Windows-based DII (F) contract to the Atlas Consortium (Atlas) led by EADS. Originally budgeted at around £5bn, the entire cost of the project is now thought to be £7bn. DII (F) will replace some 300 separate systems with a single IT infrastructure for the UK’s armed services in hundreds of locations to support defence activity in almost every way, including the delivery of intelligence from sensors.
The need for a common IT platform across the UK armed services
In November 2007, media reported that the DII (F) project had run into difficulties and had only delivered 25% of the systems due by July 2007 and further suggested that there would be cost overruns.
Spokespeople for the MoD told the media that regarding problems at Abbey Wood, MoD’s defence procurement HQ, that MoD staff and Atlas have ‘progressively resolved the problems and improved capability’.
The aim of DII (F)
DII (F) is intended to enable better communication between 340,000 military personnel and civil service staff, and will connect and support 150,000 desktop PCs, laptops and other devices. The use of a single information network will be designed to enable UK defence efficiency measures as laid out in the defence change programme including, network enabled capability (NEC).
The MoD says that DII (F) will achieve its objectives by extending into the operational area and interfacing with headquarters, battlefield support and the front line, thus enhancing operational support and the MoD’s interoperability between the MoD and its coalition partners.
Solutions sought for DII (F)
Sharing share point data to in excess of 200 sites is costly and needs a large number of satellite or other transmission time bandwidth methods.
Often the volumes of data are large and the legacy network connections do not always make for quality transmissions.
A flexible, simple and cost-effective solution using Microsoft platforms including, MS SharePoint was sought by Atlas and the MoD, resulting in Infonic plc (Infonic) being awarded a £8.3m contract in November 2007 for the supply of software licences and maintenance for DII F; under the terms of the contract, Infonic is providing its geo-replication software to be utilised by the MoD within DII (F).
Infonic stated that its tender competed with a bid from others and with the CSC-led Radii group, comprising CSC, BT (British Telecom) and Thales. However, Infonic believes that the company was not awarded the contract solely on price, although value for money was important to Atlas. Infonic pointed to several reasons for winning the contract:
- The unique capability of the company’s geo-replicator, which uses patented Epsilon Compression technology to compress large volumes of data over low-bandwidth environments
- The integration with SharePoint
- Atlas and Infonic have an excellent working relationship
- DII (F) presented unique challenges of scale for which traditional server based licensing software models would be too constricting. Infonic actually adopted a new licensing model for Atlas to enable the required flexibility to support the deployment of the software to meet the MoD’s needs
- The willingness to understand the requirements of the project and to adapt its commercial model to meet the needs of DII (F); Infonic’s new model is based on the physical locations rather than the number of boxes
- As Infonic is based in the UK, its engineers would be available
- The company already had a successful track record working with the US Department of Defence (DoD); US Army South, the US Marine Corps and the US Navy have all chosen to use geo-replication technologies.
Infonic says that geo-replicator represents a new generation of replication software that uses patented technologies to address speed challenges and thus eliminate long response times over wide area networks (WANs), guaranteeing application availability even when there is no network available.
Infonic’s software uses Epsilon Compression and web virtualisation and this technology provides high bandwidth replication of large volumes of data of any type of content while ensuring that equivalent sequences will not be transmitted on the network more than once; Epsilon Compression has been shown to out perform delta level differencing. Infonic says that, for example, a 10mb presentation can be compressed to a ratio of 98%, thus allowing a slow network to make transfers over 50 times faster.
Geo-replicator and DII (F)
Geo-replicator supports the project’s aim by providing information to all users no matter where they are and no matter what bandwidth they are using. Infonic also says that the software replicates and compresses the data by such a degree that transmission is once again viable and enables the UK’s armed forces to deliver data to places where is was not possible to do so before.
Initially, geo-replicator was intended to enable the use of MS SharePoint in the, ‘deployed’, parts of the MoD. However, Infonic says that this scope has now been widened to the MoD’s, ‘fixed environment’, and therefore across the whole of the DII (F) project.
Infonic says that geo-replicator meets the demands of its clients in terms of:
- Performance: replacing WAN response times with local area network (LAN) response times
- Cost reduction: to minimise WAN traffic and allow web applications and file content to be replicated during off-peak hours
- Transparency: through all solutions to provide the same interface to remote and mobile users
- Compatibility: to support all file types, commonly used web technologies, network and security infrastructures
- Security: the replication support is integrated with existing security infrastructure and extends to support remote and offline users
- Scalability: the scalable architecture can manage tens of thousands of users and terabytes (TB) of replicated content
- Network availability: the platform is able to provide access within networks that have potential for disconnection
Infonic’s contract stipulates that approximately £4.1m worth of software must be delivered within the first 90 days of the contract. Infonic stated that this objective has been achieved; the company will also provide contracted maintenance and services thought to be worth a further £4.2m over the next seven years.