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June 12, 2018

The cloud remains one of the most transformative technologies to gain attention and adoption across the federal government. That’s why our team is authoring this cloud series - defining the cloud, looking at its benefits, and exploring the advanced technologies that it enables.

In our last article, Steven Oh, Director, Cloud Transformation, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Group, looked at cloud migrations at federal civilian agencies, talked about the challenges that those agencies face when migrating to the cloud, and talked about the ways that industry partners can help them make those migrations a reality. Now, I’d like to take a look at the other communities within the federal government—specifically the defense and intel communities—some of the unique reasons why they’re interested in the cloud and some of the challenges that they face as they look to move applications and workloads into the cloud.

All about cost and capabilities
In a previous post in this cloud series, my colleague Neil Kronimus positioned scalability, transparency and cost savings as the main drivers for cloud adoption in the federal government. Then, in another article, John Grim claimed that advanced IT services and capabilities were a main driver for cloud adoption.

Well, when it comes to the defense and intel communities, they’re both right. The cloud is essential for powering the advanced Big Data, data analytics and IoT programs that the military and intel community are implementing, and doing so in an affordable way.

In September of last year, Gen. David Goldfein, the Chief of Staff for the Air Force gave a speech at the Air Force Association Air Space Cyber Conference. During his remarks, he frequently repeated the phrase, “Does it connect? Good. Does it share? Even better,” when discussing new military platforms.

This phrase by Gen. Goldfein is indicative of a larger trend in the military - warfare has changed and evolved. Today’s warfighter is more connected and more reliant on data and IT solutions today than at any other time in history. Warfighter and multiple other platforms – from UAS platforms to sensors in wearables – are generating data at an incredible rate. That data needs to be turned into actionable intelligence or goes to waste.

Today, the defense and intel communities generate petabytes of intelligence data every day. Trying to store, share and analyze that data in traditional data centers would be nearly impossible – and exceptionally cost prohibitive. It would simply require too many compute and storage resources to make it financially and logistically feasible.

The cloud is the only way that the intel and defense communities can realistically afford the compute, storage and other IT resources that they need in today’s data-driven national security environment. With the cloud making it possible to process, exploit and disseminate intelligence, you would think that the organizations that are responsible for national security would be rushing to adopt it, but there are challenges.

A matter of trust
When the security of the nation and the lives of American soldiers are at stake, it’s understandable that the federal government would move in a very deliberate way. And that’s been the approach that the military and intel community have taken when it comes to the cloud.

Trust is an issue. If a company provides compute, storage and other services to the intel community, they need to be a trusted and proven solution provider. They also need to ensure that their solutions meet that organization’s stringent security requirements. But that’s where the challenge arises. Not all of the agencies and organizations that comprise the intel and defense communities have the same security requirements.

This can make it very difficult to establish community cloud architectures that can enable the level of information sharing that these agencies need, because they each hold their vendors to a disparate set of security requirements. It can be difficult to identify cloud services that meet all of the requirements for all of the agencies simultaneously.

Then there’s the simple issue of logistics. As we discussed previously, the intel and defense communities generate mountains of data – a veritable ocean of information. And that metaphor holds up when it comes to trying to physically move that data. These agencies may as well try to move a mountain, or relocate an entire ocean.

At the end of the day, none of these agencies want inflexible data centers anymore– or the cost that’s associated with them. Unfortunately, compute and storage needs to stay close together, and moving petabytes or hextobytes of data to the cloud isn’t an easy process. So, how do these organizations make that switch?

Finally, there’s the issue of legacy software. Legacy applications that were built to work on bare metal in a data center don’t always migrate easily to the cloud. Some government applications are so old that they were designed to run on mainframes. If these systems are still working and won’t benefit from a migration to the cloud, there’s no reason to incur the cost to rebuild them from the ground up for the cloud. However, if there is benefit to migrating them to the cloud, then additional work and budget is needed to do so.

Combined, these factors make some intel and defense cloud migrations easier said than done.

Migration with minimal mission impact
Ultimately, defense and intel organizations are looking to embrace the technologies that are going to help them better accomplish their mission, but they want to do so with as little negative impact to their mission as possible. The actual process of migrating to or embracing a beneficial technology can’t impact mission readiness or mission assurance.

Working with industry partners is one of the best ways to accomplish that. Working with trusted and experienced industry partners with deep cloud expertise is the equivalent of insurance.

These companies have relationships with multiple cloud providers and are able to help the military and intel communities move to the cloud by conducting cloud migrations as a managed service. If these organizations choose not to do migration as a managed service, industry partners can still help them to identify a migration plan and choose the correct cloud vendors and solutions for their unique needs and security requirements.

Industry partners also can bring their relationships and partnerships to bear for the betterment of the intel community and military. Relationships with innovative start-up companies that are unfamiliar or unknown to the military could help introduce exciting new technologies and capabilities to the organization. Established technology vendors can be encouraged to build solutions that meet stringent security or regulatory requirements. These relationships can be leveraged when the military and intel community work hand-in-hand with industry partners.

In our next post in this cloud series, we’ll be looking more closely at some of the cloud services that we offer to the federal government. Then, we’ll be taking a deeper dive into the ways that the cloud is empowering another revolutionary technology—artificial intelligence (AI).