American Systems is a government services contractor focused on delivering strategic solutions to complex national priority programs. In order to develop and deploy a cloud-based version of its emergency notification system for the United States Air Force, American Systems had to meet Secure Cloud Computing Architecture (SCCA) requirements issued by the Defense Information Systems Agency. The company’s cloud provider, Microsoft Azure, referred them to F5. A long-time Azure partner specializing in SCCA, F5 was able to get American Systems in compliance quickly and easily. The cloud-based app is now being deployed on USAF bases and major commands in nearly every country, where up to 1 million users will rely on the application for emergency notifications.
Government services contractor American Systems has delivered IT and engineering solutions to the United States Armed Forces and other national priority programs since 1975. Based in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Chantilly, Virginia, American Systems is a two-time Government Contractor of the Year award winner from Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards, was named a Top 50 Government Technology Contractor by Washington Business Journal and was listed as a "Best of the Best" veteran-friendly company by U.S. Veterans Magazine.
The legacy Emergency Mass Notification System (EMNS) solution reliably and securely delivered emergency threat notifications to all personnel at all USAF locations on a 24 hour/7 day-a-week basis. However, the network of systems — which supported approximately 700,000 users, including service members, their families, and dependents—required hardware installations at individual major commands (MAJCOM) and military bases. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) realized that licensing, hardware, and maintenance costs could be significantly reduced by migrating the EMNS solution to the cloud, and the system would be easier to scale and manage.
In December 2017, the USAF awarded American Systems a task order to develop and implement a cloud-based EMNS. The new cloud-based app would use the Blackberry AtHoc Crisis Communications Software Suite, running on Microsoft Azure.
In order to implement the new solution, however, it would first have to meet the stringent requirements of the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Secure Cloud Computing Architecture (SCCA). The SCCA provides guidance on requirements for securing Cloud Computing Environments based on United States Department of Defense (DoD) experience, outlining recommended components including a Cloud Access Point (CAP), Virtual Datacenter Security Stack (VDSS), Virtual Datacenter Managed Service (VDMS), and Trusted Cloud Credential Manager (TCCM).
American Systems chose Microsoft Azure as its cloud service provider and told their Azure representative they needed a partner to help them tackle the SCCA requirements. The answer was immediate: bring in F5.
Microsoft had previously developed a solution in partnership with F5 that runs on Azure and will meet the SCCA requirements, called Secure Azure Computing Architecture (SACA).
“The existing collaboration between Azure and F5 made SCCA compliance easy,” said Richard Walsh, Lead Engineer at American Systems. “Every SCCA requirement was already vetted by an existing F5 module or procedural set for Azure. With that handled, our team we free to focus on the technical challenges of systems integration.”
American Systems used F5 BIG-IP Virtual Edition as its application delivery and security services platform for the cloud-based EMNS solution. The solution has two availability zones—one primary and one backup—with an internal and external BIG-IP VE instance. It also maintains a standby in a different geographic region within Azure, and identical architecture across the regions.
F5 Azure SCCA Template Deployment Diagram
Within a year, the cloud-based EMNS was successfully deployed at all MAJCOMs and 176 USAF bases around the world. In an emergency such as severe weather or an active shooter threat, airmen and their dependents can receive urgent notifications via email, voice calls, text to mobile devices, or push notifications from a mobile or desktop app.
With F5 as a partner in its EMNS cloud project, American Systems was able to quickly and easily meet Department of Defense requirements and will eventually support a million users worldwide. The project’s success has already led to more opportunities for the company and its collaboration with F5
DoD contractors are held to a high standard, and SCCA compliance opens doors to future opportunities for American Systems. “Working with F5 Professional Services, American Systems became the first systems integrator to successfully get its Virtual Datacenter Security Stack accredited, and offer it as a solution using Azure,” said Rick Jones, Executive Director and Vice President of National Services at American Systems. Jones added that American Systems is pursuing other potential opportunities within the DoD.
In addition to making compliance easier, the choice of BIG-IP VE as a platform made the implementation easier as well.
“We could have done this with multiple devices, but F5 simplified it,” said Walsh. “Two BIG-IP VE devices provide all the functionality we need.”
Prior to the EMNS project, American Systems wasn’t familiar with F5 and its solutions. The experience left them impressed with the company and its people.
“I have nothing but good things to say about F5 Professional Services,” said Walsh. “The engineers I worked with were heavily involved in the DoD space, and I couldn’t have pulled this off without them. They’ve never let me down in terms of answering questions and sharing knowledge.” Walsh added that he plans to get F5 certification in the near future and bring that knowledge and experience to other projects.