How the Army is approaching its cloud strategy

Archie Mackie.

Archie Mackie, product director for enterprise computing, Army PEO EIS

The Army, like other parts of the Defense Department, is taking a gradual approach to adopting the commercial cloud, prioritizing security over fast implementation. Archie Mackie, product director for enterprise computing in the Army Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, wouldn't have it any other way.

"The DOD and the Army are taking it slowly because we want to get it done right the first time," he said in a Nov. 7 interview.

"I think the strategy is sound -- to utilize both DISA [the Defense Information Systems Agency] and commercial cloud ... to drive down the cost and also get some economy of scale for the Army," he said.

Mackie has a clear objective as the Army wades further into an era of cloud computing and greater interoperability: to give IT program managers and system administrators an operating environment that balances security and affordability.

Mackie assumed his role in enterprise computing for PEO EIS in June. His portfolio includes four of the Army's biggest IT initiatives: data center consolidation; the Enterprise Service Desk, an Army-wide IT help desk; the Army Software Marketplace, which is like an "app store" for the service; and pursuit of a Common Operating Environment, a set of technologies and standards that enable interoperability across different computing environments. His office will also handle Army's cloud initiatives as they mature "to a point [of] requiring program management support," according to PEO EIS.

The Army and the other services find themselves with greater authority to procure commercial cloud after acting DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen announced that policy shift in September. The new policy is an effort to hasten the department's move to the commercial cloud while still prioritizing security.

Mackie said the directive would not have much of an impact on the Army's cloud procurement. DISA is still in charge of security requirements for the cloud. Elaborating on the Army's work with other DOD authorities on the cloud, he said the Army is working with Halvorsen's office on two ongoing cloud pilot projects.

Both pilots are with Amazon Web Services and are designed to test the security and affordability of commercial cloud offerings. Currently, AWS is the only vendor authorized to operate high-risk unclassified data (Levels 3-5) while CGI Federal, Autonomic Resources and HP's Enterprise Cloud Services Virtual Private Cloud are the other firms approved for Levels 1 and 2 (low-risk unclassified data), Mackie said. That could soon change, however. Mackie said there is plenty of interest from commercial cloud providers in getting certified to handle more sensitive data and that the Army is working closely with all three vendors to make sure they understand DOD's security requirements. Meanwhile, Autonomic Resources announced Nov. 5 that it had carried out a security assessment for its cloud offering up to Level 5.

Mackie's influence on the Army's IT strategy is perhaps most apparent when he is making the case to his boss, PEO EIS head Doug Wiltsie, about which of the EC programs must be funded when money is tight.

"As you know, there are a lot of great programs out there that are going to be bitten by the funding shortage across the board," he said, though he declined to name specific PEO EIS programs that might not get funding this fiscal year.

Given the size of the Army's IT footprint, there are naturally some parts of the service further along in adopting the cloud than others. Mackie singled out the Army Materiel Command and the Office of Business Transformation as agencies that have been "early adopters" of the cloud, meaning they had taken the "initiative to start structuring and identifying how this [cloud procurement] strategy impacts them, and then how to support that strategy."

Asked about Army commands that might be lagging in their embrace of the cloud, Mackie said he did not know of any stragglers, and that some commands are still sizing up the Army's cloud strategy.

Mackie said one of his goals for the next several months is to boost communication with private industry and in doing so draw more lessons from various firms' experience with using the cloud for data consolidation. To that end, the Army will have an "industry day" in the next three to six months, he reckoned.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to note that DISA has also approved a private cloud offering from Hewlett Packard to operate at Impact Levels 1 and 2.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.


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