DEFENSE IT—Virtualization

DISA ramps up cloud-computing platform

Military program managers frustrated by having to wait six months to get a server provisioned might want to take a look at the Defense Information Systems Agency's new cloud-computing offering. The agency is boasting that can provide a NIPRnet-connected, production-ready virtual server within 72 hours.

DISA announced today that it has expanded the scope of its Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE) to incorporate production-ready services.

DISA launched RACE a year ago as a self-service environment for defense developers to provision virtual servers and test new applications in a safe environment. Now the agency has expanded the offering as a production platform.

"It's not just a test-and-development environment anymore," said Henry Sienkiewicz, technical program director of DISA's computing services. “It's also a production environment.”

All branches of the military services can provision servers through RACE for their production-ready applications. The applications that are best served by that environment are lighter ones that could run easily in a standard Microsoft Windows or Linux environment. Convoy control systems, satellite controls or even smaller command-and-control systems would work well. "It would almost be the same sort of applications that you would [deploy] within a commercial hosting company," Sienkiewicz said.

One advantage that DISA offers over commercial hosting companies is its familiarity with meeting defense security standards. In the new environment, accreditation for production systems takes only about 40 days, or about half the time it normally takes to get a new system audited and accredited for military use, Sienkiewicz said.

The agency has assembled a package for users called Pathway to Production, which includes integration with the Defense Department's Vulnerability Management System, the Enterprise Mission Assurance Support Service (eMASS) and associated documentation. DISA has also prepared the virtual environment to conform as closely as possible to the DOD Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process and the DISA Security Technical Implementation Guides.

DISA officials hope to cut more time from the accreditation process by further integrating RACE with eMASS and other accreditation processes. Users can also save time by developing applications right in the RACE testing environment.

"Applications developed in the RACE testing environment inherit all the information assurance controls in the production environment, and that streamlines a great deal of human intervention," which shortens accreditation time, Sienkiewicz said.

The service offers Windows Server and standard Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP stacks. The basic service runs $1,200 per month per server. Users can provision up to 1T of storage. The provisioned servers will be accessible via the Unclassified but Sensitive IP Router Network and, beginning in the second quarter of fiscal 2010, the Secret IP Router Network.

Although DISA is using virtualization to maximize server use, end users do not need expertise in virtualization management. To them, the service appears as "a preloaded, preconfigured server," Sienkiewicz said.

Once commissioned, virtual servers can be operational within 72 hours, and agency officials hope to shorten that time to less than 24 hours. The agency has maintained an uptime of 99.999 percent with its hosted offerings and plans to offer that level of service to RACE users, Sienkiewicz said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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