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How the Cloud is Transforming the Department of Defense: Tarak Modi Explains

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Listen to my podcast with Tarak Modi, Vice President and CTO of CALIBRE Systems. Tarak is an industry thought leader in IT transformation and in current enterprise modernization technologies. In this podcast we explore how the Department of Defense is currently leveraging cloud computing.

Listen to or download the 9:48 minute podcast below:

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PS: So to start it off, the Department of Defense seems to have taken quite a bit of interest in cloud computing. Exactly how are they using cloud as part of their defense strategy?

TM: Peter, you're absolutely right. The Department of Defense or DoD has definitely not been shy about showing its interest in cloud computing. And for those familiar with the DoD, this might not be surprising at all. The DoD has always maintained a vision of network centric operations to foster an agile, robust, interoperable, and collaborative environment where warfighters, businesses, and intelligence users all share knowledge on a secure, dependable, and global network to support the DoD's mission of protecting the security of the United States.

One of DoD's earlier efforts is part of realizing this mission is called the Global Information Grid or GIG. The GIG is a globally interconnected set of information systems that our warfighters use to access the information they need, when they need it and wherever they need it. Also since 1991, the Defense Information Systems Agency or DISA has consolidated close to 150 information processing centers into just five. Now, doesn't all this sound just like a story about cloud computing? Actually Peter, if you look back at the history of DoD, and more specifically DISA, you'll see that they've been getting ready for cloud computing for over a decade. So cloud computing is not a new concept for these guys.

One example that illustrates just how committed and advanced the Department of Defense is RACE, which is a cloud computing environment that I mentioned in several of my past podcasts. I really do believe that RACE is a poster child for cloud computing. Another example is Forge.mil that provides an online environment for collaborative software development and includes tools for version control, bug tracking, integrated testing, and even has access to open source and community source software.

Now powerful as both RACE and Forge.mil are, they become even more compelling when combined together as the Army did to support its Apps for the Army Development Contest launched earlier this year. This contest is similar to the Apps for Democracy Contest launched by Vivek Kundra when he was the CTO of Washington, DC except that in this case it's limited to soldiers and Army civilians.

PS: Are there any examples of the Department of Defense actually using public clouds or private clouds that are not hosted in their own data centers?

TM: That's a very interesting question especially in the light of the fact that most federal civilian agencies are extremely cautious of using anything but private clouds that are hosted in their own data centers. So based on that, one would think that the answer to your question would be a big "no", but amazingly, it's not. There are actually some interesting examples of the DoD using private clouds not hosted by the agency but by a commercial provider. One of the most notable examples, at least in terms of potential controversies, is MiCare, which is a personal health record pilot developed by the DoD in partnership with Microsoft and Google.

MiCare participants not only have on-demand access to their medical information but by using Microsoft's HealthVault or Google Health, these participants can store health records obtained from other civilian providers, plans and pharmacies.

Another interesting example is around the Army Experience Center, AEC, that wanted to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its marketing and recruiting programs. The Army used to have a legacy proprietary data system called The Army Recruiting Information Support System. And as with most legacy systems, it ultimately became infeasible to modify this legacy system to meet the requirements such as integration with social networking applications and real time data access for multiple platforms including handheld devices. In fact, can you believe that some of the initial bids to provide this functionality were well over a million dollars? So the AEC decided to take an alternative approach. They used a customized version of the popular cloud based CRM from Salesforce.com.

Currently, the Army is piloting this cloud based solution at an annual cost of just $54,000 with full support of all their requirements. The point to note here is that this system is not in an Army data center. A similar example is the CRM software-as-a-service solution provided by a company called RightNow, which is being used by the Air Force Human Resource Call Centers. The interesting point here too is that the Air Force is not hosting this software onsite but rather using RightNow to host the Department of Defense software-as-a-service offering.

PS: Now, didn't the Army just recently issue an RFP regarding cloud computing? Can you drill down a little bit on that?

TM: Sure Peter. The Army did recently issue an RFP regarding cloud computing but before we get into that, let me give you a few interesting facts. You might be surprised to know that the Army is one of the largest IT user organizations in the world with over 1.4 million users, an IT budget of approximately $10 billion, and more than 200 data centers. You might recall our discussions around the federal data center consolidation initiative in our past podcast. The Army has plans to consolidate these 200 data centers into just 20 data centers.

Phase 1 of the Army's data consolidation effort involves relocating data centers from Fort Belvoir in Virginia, and the US Army Forces Command in Georgia, to the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, and Fort Bragg in North Carolina. These changes are actually tied to a larger initiative called Base Realignment and Closure or BRAC, which involves shifting Army personnel and resources among bases and closing 14 facilities. So now, with that background information in mind, let's go back to your question about the Army's cloud computing RFP.

The official name of the RFP is Area Processing Centers Army Private Cloud or APC2. Note the use of the word "private". This is not surprising given the Army's strict IT security requirements and what other federal agencies have been doing with respect to cloud computing. We've talked about this in our past podcasts. It's not a matter of whether the public cloud can handle the security; it's a matter of having the trust that they can. The trust just isn't there yet.

The RFP divides cloud computing services into two suites. The first suite consist of six facility private cloud computing. The second suite consist of a mobile containerized data centers to meet urgent needs for the Army and contingency operations or where active or temporary computing capacity is needed. So how much money is all this worth? How about a total of $249 million or five years. To me though, what is most amazing is that in the past the Army has been steadfast in its unwillingness to consider commercial services. Well with this RFP, it has left the door open to commercially owned and operated data centers.

Ultimately, the Army expects to improve security, enhance availability, and reduce the cost of application migration, hosting, operations, and maintenance by acquiring the most cost effective cloud computing services available on the market even if that means using commercial providers.

PS: Interesting. And I imagine trust is absolutely critical with the Department of Defense. Now let's take a look forward, what do you see for cloud in the Department of Defense in the future?

TM: Oh I definitely see lots of clouds in the future of the DoD. The basic value proposition of cloud computing remains the same. It includes reduced operational costs, a higher ROI on computing assets, and streamlined provisioning and de-provisioning of resources. But there's a more important topic on the minds of the DoD and its component combat and non-combat agencies and that's the need to support our field personnel and warfighters with better intelligence on-demand, anyplace, and at any time.

So for example, APC2, which is the RFP that we just talked about, plays a key role in implementing the Army's LandWarNet strategy. LandWarNet is the Army's vision for one battle command system over one network that's built on the DoD's global information grid that allows operational forces on the field to reach back for high fidelity intelligence whether it be voice, video, or data.

Another example along the same lines is the implementation of a complex cloud based mash-up between hundreds of disparate services and data forces on both the DoD's classified and non-classified networks to address the need to provide rapid situational awareness to senior leaders in the DoD to aid them in more effective resource force management. So in short, I truly believe that we will continue to see some of the most innovative cloud based solutions at the DoD not only because they really do have some of the best minds but because of their unique needs that require massive processing and ubiquitous access.

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The "Apps for the Army" contest, which I referred to in my answer to Peter's first question, is now open to the industry for innovative ideas.

You can read the full story at: http://www.ausa.org/news/2010/Pages/AppsfortheArmyContestOpentoIndustryforInnovativeIdeas.aspx.

ebizQ’s expert blog team covers a broad range of BPM, business integration, business analytics/monitoring, collaboration, content and related issues.

Peter Schooff

Peter Schooff is Contributing Editor at ebizQ, and manager of the ebizQ Forum. Contact him at pschooff@techtarget.com

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