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DOD launches aggressive new cloud migration effort

The Deputy Secretary of Defense is directing an ambitious new effort to accelerate migration to cloud technologies and more quickly harvest commercial sector IT innovations.



A new DOD-wide developmental program has been established with this goal in mind, according to a recent memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.



Citing Defense Secretary James Mattis’ recent trip to Silicon Valley, Shanahan stated that rapidly integrating more commercial sector technology is paramount for DOD as it seeks to retain a technical edge.



“Technologies in areas like data infrastructure and management, cybersecurity and machine learning are changing the character of war. Commercial companies are pioneering technologies in these areas and the pace of innovation is extremely rapid,” Shanahan writes in the memo.



The memo establishes a new Cloud Executive Steering Group (CESG) directed to report to Shanahan on a biweekly basis; the new program has two phases, beginning with a contract to acquire cloud services to be followed by a phase two effort to operationalize technical innovation.  



“While there are various efforts across the department to make this transition, the Cloud Executive Steering Group will focus on delivering industry best practices and solutions against an accelerated timeline. DOD is modernizing and sees cloud as a key technology for enabling a more lethal fighting force,” Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, spokeswoman for the Deputy Secretary of Defense, told Defense Systems.



Cloud migration has received much attention in recent years, and this new effort strives to accelerate cloud development and add a specific, measurable structure to an otherwise broad-sweeping or more loosely configured effort. For instance, the Pentagon has emphasized a move toward broader use of Windows 10 in a move to quickly embrace more commercial systems and cloud systems.



However, many of the various acquisition efforts have been stove piped or, by some estimations, in need of greater integration and interoperability. DOD’s ongoing Joint Information Environment (JIE) and Joint Regional Security Stacks (JRSS) efforts are emerging as  efforts to address these challenges.



Shanahan’s new program could bring nearer-term achievable metrics to the still largely conceptual JIE initiative. At the same time, there is a chance it could also help accelerate the ongoing movement toward greater domestic and international data consolidation efforts already underway with JRSS.



In addition, the new CESG, according to the memo, seems to formally launch a new acquisition program aimed at identifying and acquiring the most promising cloud-oriented innovations. According to the memo, the new group will be chaired by Ellen Lord, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.



A key element to cloud migration, considering that it involves movement toward more virtualization and a decreased hardware footprint, is that emerging software upgrades and programs can quite naturally have a faster and more ubiquitous impact across a range of data systems.



When it comes to data security and resilience against intruders and cyberattacks, the cloud could be described as consisting of a two-fold dynamic. In one sense, data consolidation through cloud architecture can potentially increase risk by lowering the number of entry points for intruders – yet it also affords an occasion to identify patterns across a wide swath of interconnected systems.



“The cloud allows you to bring together previously isolated forms and sources of data together, allowing you potentially to draw new insights. It arguably also aids with cybersecurity, as it allows one to see patterns and anomalies that might not be as easy to find otherwise,” said Peter Singer, strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation.  



Furthermore, cloud technologies can facilitate standardized security protocols so that attempted breaches can be more quickly detected. Along similar lines, JIE proponents explain that although greater interoperability could increase vulnerabilities, various networks can be engineered so they can both share data while also leveraging routers, switches and IP protocol specifics to separate and secure networks as well.



An often-discussed phenomenon seems to inform Shanahan’s push for faster cloud migration, namely that multi-year government developmental programs are, in many instances, generating technical systems which are potentially obsolete by the time they are completed. Commercial innovation, therefore, coupled with an open architecture framework, is intended to allow faster, wide-sweeping upgrades more consistent with the most current and impactful innovations.



“I am directing aggressive steps to establish a culture of experimentation, adaptation and risk-taking,” Shanahan’s memo states.

***This piece includes some commentary and analysis by Kris Osborn

About the Author

Kris Osborn is a former editor of Defense Systems.

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