Defense Department to Move to Cloud Computing


Defense Department senior leaders have directed DoD to adopt cloud computing to support the warfighter, a direction that will become a pillar of the department’s strength and security, officials said.

“Accelerating DoD’s adoption of cloud computing technologies is critical to maintaining our military’s technological advantage,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan said in a memo.

Cloud computing is defined by industry as storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of a computer hard drive. While “the cloud” is a metaphor for the Internet, it does not have a dedicated network, storage hardware or server attached.

A DoD Priority

A top DoD priority since the cloud’s announcement on Sept. 13, the Defense Information Systems Agency kicked off an introductory symposium, Dec. 12, on helping DoD mission partners, such as the services, combatant commands, DoD directorates and agencies stateside and overseas to accelerate adoption of cloud capabilities. 

The outpouring of those in attendance and watching online was massive with more than 1,000 participants, said DISA’s director, Army Lt. Gen. Alan R. Lynn.

Lynn said the cloud has numerous military benefits.

“When you go to the cloud, you’ve modernized your applications, [so] you can get data out of the application. If you can take a lot of different applications and pull the data out of them, that’s powerful,” he said. And once the data is available, “you can see all the pieces of everything everyone is working on,” he added.

“You build a lake of information that you can pull from, and that’s a big benefit that helps with warfighting,” Lynn said. “If we need [a certain amount] of logistics to go here, and an amount of ammunition to go there, we’re now able to correlate all those different pieces at one time, which is very powerful for the warfighter.”

The cloud has a second benefit in fiscal savings by using virtual equipment and hiring contractors to do the computing at a cheaper, at-scale rate, he said.

A third benefit is in virtual space, information can be moved around the network, Lynn said. “If you move them around the network, it’s hard to attack it,” he said “That’s when defense really starts kicking in.”

Security of information on the cloud is No. 1, the general said. “We have the best security apparatus that tears through an attack that’s happening before it gets down to the user level,” he explained.

Choosing Providers

The DISA symposium gave mission partners information on how to choose a government or commercial cloud provider that suits their individual needs.

While DISA has developed three clouds of its own, the symposium outlined lessons learned, the pros and cons of having a cloud contractor on premises versus off premises, and how to make the cloud a reality. 

Navy Rear Adm. Nancy A. Norton, DISA’s vice director, said the cloud will simplify and provide flexibility to the way DoD works with information that’s secure, rather than having many servers scattered around the globe for every command.

Built-in Efficiency

Some [servers] are beyond their lives and aren’t patchable for up-to-date security software. Others don't have any security protection provided to them at all; some don't have backup power, some don't have backup storage, so when they fail, they fail,” she pointed out. “And by moving that data to a cloud environment that has hosted in multiple places, redundancy, and resilience and security power efficiency are built in to the architecture as a cloud is designed.”

DISA’s role with bringing the cloud to DoD is twofold, said Terry L. Carpenter Jr., DISA’s service development executive and program executive officer for the service development directorate.

“One of the primary roles is we’re an infrastructure provider, so we provide the underlying network that moves data around the globe in support of the warfighting mission,” he said. “We also interface and work with a lot of the other mission partners -- the DoD services, combatant commanders, people that are also providing additional extensions of that network to go to reach the warfighters wherever they may be.”

Secondly, DISA helps its mission partners who are trying to buy their own cloud services, and move their applications into the cloud, Carpenter noted.

“There are some small pieces of that underpinning technology [and] we can help them make that easy transition as they can buy cloud services from wherever they want to buy it,” he said.

Planning Capabilities

John Hale, DISA’s cloud portfolio chief, said from his perspective, 2018 likely will be the year of planning for cloud computing in DoD.

“A lot of organizations are planning [and] trying to line up the resources and the funding necessary to make the transition successful,” he said, adding, “I think in 2019, we’ll probably see a large movement of the capabilities and services.”

The cloud will also be vital to recruitment of the next generation of people, Hale said. For example, the majority of teenagers today have never known a world without a mobile device or instant knowledge, and they comprise a group of individuals who will be in the workforce in two years. These individuals will expect those same technological services they’re accustomed to.

“And if we don't align our thoughts and our processes in the way we do business to handle that, they'll go somewhere else,” Hale said of potential recruits, civilian and military. “And in the end, it's only going to hurt our department.”

The cloud is here; we want to make sure that all of our mission partners are well-educated and prepared to make smart decisions and smart choices about how they adopt the use of cloud,” Norton said.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)