DOD looks to get aggressive about cloud adoption

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The Defense Department says it is finally getting serious about moving to the cloud.

On Sept. 13, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan sent a memo to DOD agencies establishing a new steering group meant to accelerate the use of cloud services, with a particular focus on commercial solutions. The group will be chaired by Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, further indicating that officials view contracting as a primary means to achieving their cloud strategy.

"While technological modernization has many dimensions, I believe accelerating the DOD's adoption of cloud computing technologies is critical to maintaining our military's technological advantage," Shanahan wrote.

That directive fits neatly in line with executive and legislative priorities. The Trump administration's draft plan for IT modernization put heavy emphasis on commercial cloud adoption as a means of building up the government's shared services infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Congress is also looking for ways to encourage more cloud experimentation in the defense space. An analysis of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act by the House Armed Services Committee urged DOD to be "less risk-averse" and do more to incorporate cloud technologies into future military exercises and war gaming.

"For example, the Department of Defense could examine the use of cloud computing to support continuity of operations planning or to support resilient operations in the face of a degraded cyber environment," the committee said.

The report singled out the Navy and Army as leaders in aggressive cloud adoption for the rest of the department to follow. At an FCW event in August, Dan DelGrosso, technical director for the Navy's Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, said that the Navy is planning to migrate of its data to a commercial cloud over the next five years.

However, getting each agency to row in the same direction has proved to be a challenge. A report by contracting data firm Govini paints a picture of a fragmented cloud environment within DOD. While some agencies have forged ahead with a cloud-first mindset, others continue to cite concerns about cybersecurity and disagreements around deployment models as justification for their sluggish pace.

Matt Hummer, director of analytics at Govini and author of the report, told FCW that the military's legacy IT assets are spread out across the country. Each individual base often has its own computing structure, making sharing of computing resources impractical. This decentralized network poses a problem to more comprehensive cloud strategies as well as to corresponding modernization efforts.

"It's a very messy transition to cloud and … until somebody above all the services sets the charter, we're going to continue to see a lot of slow progress," Hummer said.

Part of the mandate handed down to the new DOD steering group will be establishing a roadmap for agencies. The group will deliver a report in November 2017 detailing a plan to develop a customized acquisition process to purchase an enterprise cloud services solution, followed by rapid transition of agencies onto that solution.

The Govini report also found that two high-profile goals of the federal government -- data center consolidation and commercial cloud adoption -- may not be compatible. Essentially, Hummer argued that the companies that manage systems integration work for government networks are also winning many of the contracts to consolidate them. That puts these contractors in a unique position to potentially shape and influence future cloud procurements in the direction of on-premise cloud solutions.

"These companies are choosing one of two paths: continue with a consolidated network that is not cloud capable, or reshape it into something that is. At the end of the day, it's going to be a [private] cloud, it's not going to be a commercial cloud," Hummer said.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at, or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


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