DISA’s new collaborative lab environment fosters IT innovation
By Julia Simpkins
Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs
August 12, 2022
Often innovation blooms out of a team’s dynamic, with multiple perspectives adding needed functions to streamline established processes.
As technology leans toward hyper-efficiency, it continues to increase a demand for added functionality with no time lost during the process.
Recently, a small group of innovative leaders at DISA established DISAWERX, a virtual and physical lab where computer experts imagine new and inventive ways to digitally communicate more effectively and efficiently. The lab is open to all Department of Defense personnel with an interest in IT.
“DISAWERX is a collaborative innovation environment based out of KBR's Joint All Domain Warfighting Lab in Maryland where DISA employees can come and experiment with new technologies and capabilities. In fact, DISAWERX is open to all members of the DOD. It is an unclassified environment and accessible from the internet,” says Jeanelle Holder, DISAWERX program manager. “DISAWERX does not adhere to the Security Technical Implementation Guide and is an environment suitable for rapid development and prototyping. With the creation of DISAWERX, employees can bring commercial and open-source technologies into their own ‘sandbox,’ a safe environment to test, develop and prototype solutions that can solve some of DISA’s biggest technical challenges.”
DISAWERX is accessible two ways: in-person and virtually. Virtual access is achieved via a virtual private network and users receive their own virtual machines, says Holder. In addition, DISAWERX has a conference center, where DOD employees can host discussions involving as few as two or as many as 50 experts. During the AI Summit, some of the latest advanced techniques from DISAWERX were on full display.
“The objective of DISAWERX is to make it easier and faster to bring in, integrate and explore new technologies, IT tools and services while allowing DISA employees to collaborate with uncleared individuals from industry and academia,” says Holder.
DISAWERX saw success in its inaugural event held in May. The Artificial Intelligence Summit, an in-person and virtual event held in Baltimore, had full capacity in-person participation and almost 450 virtual participants. Also present were representatives from IT industry, DOD, academia and the intelligence community.
One user who has invested a lot of time in DISAWERX is Scott McDiarmid, a lead software technical advisor and architect for DISA. He is researching options for software efficiencies using the Spectrum electronic platform, which primarily focuses on enabling warfighters to access the electromagnetic spectrum, preventing interference on their devices, and offering spectrum support to allies and mission partners.
“DISA’s Defense Spectrum Organization has several research and development efforts underway to evaluate current software technologies, such as containers, DevSecOps [development, security and operations], software factories and automation. We want to understand the technologies’ finer details and to see how we can leverage them to re-capitalize legacy software and deploy software most efficiently,” says McDiarmid. “We’ve been invited to several briefings describing DISAWERX and its available capabilities and overall philosophy. DISAWERX proved to be the perfect place to set up SPDWERX [Strategic Planning Division], our own lab, as it could be nested within the virtual environment provided by the DISAWERX lab.”
In addition, McDiarmid says he’s looking forward to upcoming projects and innovation
“The DISAWERX support team quickly set us up with accounts and access to their hypervisor, a program used to manage the virtual machines that our customers access, so that we could stand up our own virtual machines. The team is knowledgeable and quick to respond and has been helping us with technical issues and IT configuration changes throughout this effort.”
Specific upcoming projects include better ways to store data, says McDiarmid.
“We’re currently exploring the practicality of containerizing some of our engineering modeling software, and the DISAWERX environment has enabled us to exercise our technical approaches with very few obstacles or delays. We already consider this partnership a success and plan to use DISAWERX as our go-to sandbox to explore and test software technology to help ensure that we can provide the best tools and frameworks to the Defense Spectrum Organization projects.”
One summit visitor, Robert Richardson, was delighted with the information he received. Richardson is the National Defense University and DISA chair visiting faculty, and serves as DISA’s liaison at National Defense University, bringing innovation to senior leaders’ education.
“My mission is to serve as a liaison between DISA and NDU [National Defense University]. My main job is to infuse the latest DISA and DOD Chief Information Office related DODIN [Department of Defense Information Network] information into the curriculum. I attended the DISAWERX summit as a factfinding trip,” says Richardson. “I wanted to capture the latest DOD AI and machine learning efforts. I am updating the College of Information and Cyberspace AI lesson in their Emerging Technology course.”
Richardson says his in-person visit to the summit was a great success.
“I went to gather information and I hit a gusher! What we do down at the college is educate future DOD and government cyber senior leaders, the nation’s future O-6s/GS-15s, SESs, generals, ambassadors and national security leaders. I will be incorporating several of the briefing slides and handouts into my lessons. I recently spoke to the Amazon Web Services Machine Learning speaker regarding using their Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning academic materials in my lesson plans. I spoke to Dave Logo, the DISA Infrastructure as Code program manager, and Navy Reserve Capt. T J R Wiley, the JAIC Joint Common Foundation speaker, about making NDU students aware that ‘these services are available now, and you don’t have to build them from scratch.’ ”
Holder says future events will occur this fall and will focus on Zero Trust, Cybersecurity and Data Management.
To learn more about DISAWERX, visit DISA.mil.
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