Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Pentagon Readies New Cloud Plan 

The Defense Department is preparing to issue a new strategy for procuring cloud services that reportedly downgrades the role of its current "cloud broker," giving more flexibility to individual military components.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has acted as the Defense Department's exclusive broker for procuring and implementing cloud services across one of the largest enterprises on earth. The restructuring plan scheduled for release any day would reportedly allow individual services and agencies greater freedom to determine the types of cloud services they require.

Terry Halverson, the Pentagon's acting chief information officer, told an IT industry gathering in November that the new policy would allow the services and large defense agencies to procure cloud services from certified vendors through their own contracting process.

Meanwhile, Halverson said, "DISA will have a role in looking to make sure that as we go more commercial that we have met the security requirements." The CIO said the biggest challenge is "figuring out really what do we have to have from a security standpoint for what levels of data."

Halverson said the department's 90-day internal review also has included discussions with unidentified commercial cloud providers.

The cloud restructuring plan comes as some sectors of the huge Pentagon bureaucracy continue to resist the transition to the cloud, a shift senior officials believe would save several billion dollars while preserving data security. "There are people who believe their data needs to be right on the table next to them—they can touch it, feel it, see their server blink. We can't operate that way anymore," Halverson stressed, adding it is too costly and less secure.

The Defense Department views cloud computing as a distributed data platform that provides cost savings through efficiencies while providing a comparative level of data security. A growing list of companies have been certified to become government cloud providers based on their ability to provide various levels of security. That requirement is critical on military networks that relay data with varying levels of classification.

The move to commercial cloud and other services is seen as one way for the Pentagon to achieve greater savings. Halverson estimated that the new cloud strategy could help cut the Defense Department's IT budget by as much as $5 billion over the next five to seven years.

One obstacle to commercial cloud adoption has been the Pentagon's far-flung network of datacenters. While there has been some progress in consolidating datacenters, resistance to giving up control of data remains. Halverson noted that his office wants to leverage "data storage that has become very much like a utility."

Amazon Web Services, Google, Hewlett-Packard, and other storage vendors "battle so quick in the data cost world that in the end they are paying me to store my data" with them, the Pentagon CIO said. "That's where I'm headed."

Ultimately, the new Pentagon IT strategy is designed to speed the process of moving data and storage to the cloud as a way to redirect scarce funds to fighting wars. For now, the challenge is convincing the services that they can "still get to it and it's still secure," Halverson said.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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