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Applicant Processing Moves to the Cloud

By Louis Wiseman USMEPCOM

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United States Military Entrance Command has its head in the cloud and plans to keep it there.

The command is replacing its physical file servers with cloud-based servers. USMIRS is an armed forces, joint service component systems that supports the peacetime and mobilization mission of qualifying and enlisting applicants into the armed forces.

Rather than maintaining servers at its 65 military entrance processing stations and the headquarters, the servers will be transitioned to the "Gov Cloud," provided by a government-approved and authorized civilian cloud computing provider.

"They won't have their own USMIRS server at the MEPS any more," Marty Allen, deputy director of USMEPCOM's Information Technology Directorate (J-6), said. "They'll still log into USMIRS, but instead of logging into their local USMIRS server that's just down the hall, they're connecting to a data center located elsewhere.

"Right now you have to be on the Recruiting Services Network to access USMIRS," Allen said. "The vision is once it's in the cloud, if you have the Web address, and you're authorized access, you'll be able to get it from your desktop, from your laptop, maybe even from your phone. It takes us to the future for mobile computing."

Moving to the cloud clears the way for USMIRS 1.1 to replace the nearly 30 year old legacy USMIRS system and paves the way for integrating with Military Health System GENESIS. MHS GENESIS is the Department of Defense's new electronic health record.

In many ways, going from the legacy USMIRS to USMIRS 1.1 will be like going from driving an 25-year-old sedan to driving a brand new sports car.

Fielding USMIRS 1.1 requires integrating more than 25 applications with the new system. Most of the integration work is a J-6 responsibility. The directorate is working closely with the Defense Digital Service and Tandem, a Chicago-based civilian custom software developer.

"USMIRS 1.1 is being specifically built on a cloud-based platform," Allen said. "It's even on cloud servers while it's in development. It's being developed natively to be more user accessible and based on modern technology. It's not like we're building it in the basement here at the headquarters and then figuring out how we're going to get it to the cloud. It's being built in the cloud."

Allen said how humans interact with screens and systems wasn't a concern in the computer world when USMIRS was originally developed. Screen and field appearance and, navigation weren't really considered. The end user wan not part of the design process.

"USMIRS 1.1 brings our applicant processing system up to modern day standards of human-system interface, so data is entered in a way that makes sense," Allen said.

For example, even seemingly minor differences can have a huge impact. USMIRS 1.1 is mouse friendly; legacy USMIRS is not. With the new system, users can navigate screens in a manner to which they have become accustomed from the best websites available.

USMIRS 1.1 will also make things simpler for the information technology professionals who maintain the system.

"Right now, we actually run and maintain 66 different legacy USMIRS," Allen said. "Detroit is not the same as Milwaukee, which is not the same as Chicago. They all run the same software, but each is its own system.

"If we make a change with the legacy USMIRS we've got to develop it and deploy it 66 times to make sure everyone is in sync," he said. "If we update USMIRS 1.1 we update it in one place, we update one item, and the entire command has that change immediately.

"One of the most exciting things is the ability to quickly adjust to meet the mission," Allen said. "Right now, in the morning when we only have the East Coast MEPS up and running, legacy USMIRS runs really well. It slows a little bit when the Midwest MEPS start business. When the Mountain Time Zone starts, it gets slower. By the time the West Coast is up and running, we have bottlenecks with the network and processing speed ability."

"USMIRS 1.1 will adjust capacity dynamically," he said. "It can automatically spin up new servers to provide for the increased demand. Hypothetically, in the morning we may be running USMIRS off of four servers in the cloud to support the East Coast MEPS. Then when the Midwest MEPS come on line, we're running on six servers. By the time the Mountain and West Coast MEPS comes on line, we're running on 16 servers. Then in the evening, when the MEPS on the East Coast start to shut down, those servers will automatically shut down. We will have the ability to respond dynamically in real time to meet customer demands."

USMIRS 1.1 is currently being tested at the Milwaukee MEPS. When fully operational, it will most likely be deployed one USMEPCOM battalion at a time, however deployment plans are not yet finalized.