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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Reader comments

Fri, Mar 26, 2010

Great idea but the cost of $1200 a month per server makes it unusable by our small M&S group which is always under budget restrictions. With a price like that, it appears they are targeting the larger programs with lots of money. In the end, those programs will probably still establish their own servers regardless of the delays. It's unfortunate because the smaller funded groups/projects could really benefit from it.

Tue, Nov 17, 2009 San Diego, CA

Not sure why DISA is charging for their cloud computing resources/services. If they develop this environment for the DOD and it agency, they should have received funding from the Government. The security and certification fee should be a one time fee, and it should be the application owner responsibility to complete the certification. Okay, maybe helpdesk support and maintain fee is require, and storage upgrade or tech refresh is a requirement, but that should not by so high. it should be comparable with the commercial sector. The infrastructure is already built, why are DISA charging , its tax payer funding they are getting.

Wed, Oct 7, 2009

Notwithstanding the previously listed comments, $1200 a month may be in the 'wheelhouse' considering time and dollars expended to get a similar system through the Certification and Accreditation process...all the while the intended user still has no usable asset. Basically, alleviating the customer from the C&A process realizes a substantial savings over the course of the year. Not only costs for C&A, but manpower/labor charges, IAVM, Addition of Firewalls and other security related peripherals, and maintenance including system upgrades. I submit to any organization that considers using the "DISA Cloud" perform a Cost-Benefit Analysis in order to consider multiple alternatives.

Tue, Oct 6, 2009 prof. Paul Strassmann

$1,200 per month per server is out of line. Even assuming 8 cores/server and 5 Virtual computers/core (a most generous estimate), this would still be $360/virtual computer/year.

Looks like DISA prices are a large multiple greater than comparable commercial prices which include profit and taxes.

At 5 VMs per core, we can run 2,560 VMs on this, or $156/VM capital expenses, or $50/year on three year depreiation.

Can you forward this to Sienkiewitz and to Alfred Rivera?

Thanks, Paul
professor, George Mason University
former Director of Defense Information, OSD

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