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Why US Defense Agencies are Moving to the Cloud

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BOSTON. Cloud computing offers the promise of improved scalability and agility, two things that can be a huge benefit to the U.S. Armed Forces.

In a session at the Red Hat Summit (last week) a panel of defense contractors detailed some of what they have seen within U.S .defense agencies as they consider the move toward virtualization and the cloud.

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John Barrette, Senior Acquisition Specialist at Odyssey Systems consulting group, said that in the USAF, what he has seen are ‘cloud pipes’. Barrette is also a former U.S Air Force officer. The concept of cloud pipes is were multiple groups within the military are moving to a cloud model but each one of them is moving in a different way. So the Army could be building one thing and the USAF is doing another pipe and none of them talk to each other.

“We’re trying to prevent that,” Barrette said. “One way to do that is with open source.”

George Callaghan, CEO of BizHelper said that he spends a lot of his time with the U.S. Army, which has its own set of challenges that virtualization and cloud can potentially help to solve.

“The Army has over 700 data centers and they are all run differently,” Callaghan said. “We know how to go to war, we know how to build weapons in a repeatable manner, but we don’t’ know how to do repeatable IT.”

Open Source

When it comes to embracing cloud and virtualization technologies, the panel agreed that a few years ago there were some concerns. Barrette noted that within the USAF there was some doubt whether they could use open source in an operational command and control environment. It is work that is ongoing and might potentially leverage work that the U.S. Navy has already made with its ACS stack (Afloat Cores Services). ACS includes JBoss Middleware and Linux components used by the Navy.

The real key for continued open source virtualization and cloud technology adoption in the military, according to Barrette, will come from use-cases. So if one branch of military has had success, the story of that success should be shared.

Barrette also defended the open source model as being a secure one for Defense agencies. He argued that security through obscurity isn’t security. In contrast, the many eyes model of open source code can provide value from a security perspective.

“It is hard to hide a virus in a mature open source project,” Barret said.

Mission Critical

While availability is always an issue in IT, Callahan stressed that when it comes the military, availability is – very literally – mission critical.

“The Department of Defense needs to be able to lose a data center and not miss a beat,” he said.


Booz Allen Hamilton has had some success getting its Military customers to move to an open source cloud virtualization technology platform. Nirmal Mehta, an associate within the Strategic Innovation Group Innovation Group at Booz Allen Hamilton, explained that his firm was helping out the part of the Department of Defense that delivers reporting capabilities.

“So during sequestration, randomly a bunch of Congressional staff would ask for a ton of reports,” Mehta said. “We couldn’t predict when that load would arrive, so we’d have to manually rack and stack a new server.”

The time it takes to manually provision a new server could take up to a week, while the demand for the report is immediate. So what Mehta and his team were able to do is to help transition the DoD agency to a virtualization platform.

“We introduced a rule-based analysis of metrics and monitoring that automatically scales up resources when it sees a load of users coming in,” Mehta said. “So we’ve gone all the way from manually provisioning servers in a week or two, to automated scaling.”

“That’s one of the biggest selling points of cloud computing,” Mehta added. “It allows for a lot more flexibility, and the cloud computing characteristic of automation is really where the value comes from and it’s what our clients want.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Datamation and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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