The DoD defines the Indo-Pacific region as encompassing 36 countries and 50 percent of the world’s population, which means the theater’s importance to global security is unmatched, and growing. The recent AFCEA TechNet Indo-Pacific 2019 event highlighted the significance of the region, as under a theme of “Enabling a More Effective Combined Force through Digital Modernization,” attendees and presenters focused on the technology strategies that can be brought to bear on the issues and threats facing the region. A recurring theme throughout the conference, according to Omar Rafik, Managing Federal Sales Engineer of SolarWinds, was concern over the threat to global security posed by China and North Korea. In years past, he said, “aggressors hid their plans and goals, but now they are being very open about it.” This posture, Rafik explained, accounts for the intense focus on the region, as reflected in the panels and presentations held over the three-day event.
Interoperability is Essential
Much of the discussion centered on interoperability, according to SolarWinds’ Jerry Rollandini, who supports the Air Force’s needs. He explained that “because this theater is truly joint, operators who provide support between the organizations with a standard set of tools and capabilities is critical.” With multiple branches of service operating together in the region, the differences between the technology tools they use and maintain can be obstacles to effectiveness. Rafik added that some branches use more than 500 different tools for network management and operations, and as personnel move around to new duty stations, they often encounter tools they have not seen before. “The more tools you have, the more training you need,” he said.
Tim Smith, SolarWinds’ Senior Director – Civilian Government and Federal Systems Integrators, agreed, adding that the move to consolidation is a priority globally, not just within the Indo-Pacific theater, but throughout the services. “Legacy monitoring and management resources are difficult and expensive to maintain, which is why all branches are engaged in both tools consolidation and data center consolidation,” he said. Rafik commented that solutions that easily “communicate and interact with each other, like SolarWinds’, allow users to correlate data from different areas of the network, and users only need to learn a single, consistent interface.”
Interoperability among coalition partners was also highlighted in several sessions at the event. As Rafik pointed out, though, this entails not just technology considerations but geopolitical ones, as well. Still, he said, it is an important issue that is being addressed by senior leadership, as it is crucial to ensuring the stability of the region.
Cyber, Data and AI Drive Modernization
Three major components of the DoD’s technology strategy — cybersecurity, Big Data and artificial intelligence — were discussed at length at TechNet Indo-Pacific. Cloud-based strategies mean that data is flowing to an increasing number of mobile platforms, from smartphones and tablets to laptops, as well as Internet of Things devices. “Endpoint devices may not all be government owned, since there are contractors alongside military personnel. BYOD is a huge concern among the cybersecurity professionals we’ve surveyed,” Rafik explained. “That makes protecting data more difficult.”
However, he added, logging and monitoring tools can identify what those devices are doing and what systems they are accessing. Smith added that the appropriate tools allow the services to store data centrally but segment network access by role, which adds a layer of security while ensuring users and devices have appropriate access.
Big Data and artificial intelligence go hand-in-hand: as more data is generated (and the government is generating mountains of data daily), the more difficult it is to search and analyze for relevant insights. Rollandini explained that a system with open APIs, such as SolarWinds’, allows other tools to pull data that is being collected from across the network. “This supports the interoperability that can enable better decision-making, endpoint security and a host of other critical needs,” he said.
Train Like You Fight
“Because of the U.S. and its coalition’s posture in the Indo-Pacific theater, training is constant,” Rollandini said. “The right monitoring and management tools support that training” by providing real-time insights into the state of the network and the applications, data, devices and users that rely on it.
What it comes down to, Rafik said, the Indo-Pacific region is that “both those nations (China and North Korea) are strong in cyber. So DoD is not just supporting the warfighters in-theater, they’re defending the safety of the country.”