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[] U.S. Army Intranet in Betrieb,

Army Intranet: World's Largest  
By Louise Knapp  

2:00 a.m. Nov. 15, 2001 PST 

The United States Army has flicked the switch on the world's largest
Intranet -- a giant computer network that will connect more than 1
million soldiers, support personnel and veterans all over the globe.  

It's called the Army Knowledge Online Portal (AKO), because it acts as
a portal to hundreds of the Army's internal websites, servers and
information sources.  

The network will have at its disposal 70 terabytes of storage.
According to figures compiled by the Internet Archive, that's three
times the size of the Library of Congress, the world's largest library.  

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"It's a total aggregation of all the information the Army has, all the
documents, manuals and files," said Ryan Samuel, director of public
relations at Appian Corporation, which helped develop the AKO.  

Whether it's a general at his desk in Washington or an infantryman in
the deserts of Tajikistan, every one of the Army's active or retired
personnel will have access to all of the army's online resources through
the site, Samuel said. He estimated it will have between 1 and 3 million
users when all personnel have signed up.  

All soldiers on active duty have already been ordered to sign up and
they are subscribing to the AKO at a rate of between 10,000 and 30,000 a

Despite the number of users, the heart of the AKO system is based on
six servers and three document management servers. These nine machines
act as a gateway to the Army's hundreds of existing computer systems and

"What is most remarkable about this system is how you can support such
a giant user population with such a small network," said Michael
Beckley, Appian's co-founder.  

Restricted to army personnel, the portal will offer American soldiers
personalized and targeted information. 

"The portal centralizes all the information the Army has, so the
soldier does not have to search through to find them all," Samuel said.
"Now they are all in one spot and all coming to them based on their

Using built-in instant messaging, a soldier on the front line can chat
to another soldier stationed miles away, check e-mail, find out local
weather reports, or look up information on how to fly a helicopter
around a Stinger missile. Meanwhile, a retired colonel can check on the
status of a retirement fund. 

"Messages are targeted depending on who has logged on; we know their
rank, experience, location and what information is relevant to them,"
said Matthew Calkins, chief executive officer of Appian. 

Although the AKO requires users to sign on with a user name and
password, the site will not be used to transfer top secret information. 

The AKO project, which was started five months ago, was rushed through
after the Sept. 11 attacks. 

"The rate on which we have taken on new users is breathtaking,"
Calkins said. "We normally like to start with a small pool of users and
then increase these in phases. No such luck here. We had hundreds of
thousands of users right away."  

Despite the numbers, the system has not crashed -- so far. Setting up
the system, however, did require negotiating a few landmines. 

"Obviously there were a lot of problems," Samuel said. "Integrating
all the databases and other Web applications and remote data stores and
tying all this into one portal was not easy." 

Bandwidth also posed a problem. A foot soldier in the darkest jungles
of Peru is not likely to have access to a speedy T-3 line. 

"All the generals want a picture of themselves on their websites,"
Samuel said. "To download a graphic-intense Web page can take forever if
you only have access to limited bandwidth." 

To cater to these situations, Appian developed different versions of
the various sites. The company's software automatically detects the type
of connection in use and chooses the appropriate version of the website
to be downloaded. 

"We haven't worked out all the bandwidth issues yet," Samuel said.
"Some people may still have difficulty getting on to the site. But we
are working on this." 

Naturally, security was also an important consideration. 

"The biggest security challenge was not which firewall to use or which
software offered the best security but getting our system to perform it
all automatically so it worked transparently to the user," said Appian's

"It had to be handled in a way so that it looks like magic to the

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