Moving the U.S. military's IT operations to a cloud computing model hasn't been easy. But the payoff is clear, according to Henry Sienkiewicz, who oversees the Department of Defense's cloud computing platform, known as the Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE).
"This is a radical shift," Sienkiewicz said yesterday at the Gartner Data Center Conference in Las Vegas. "We really believe we will be able to save hundreds of millions of dollars as we go forward with this model."
"The RACE platform went into production in early October, and accelerates the process of provisioning computing services for applications used by the U.S. military. The platform was developed by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which manages information infrastructure for 4 million members of the Department of Defense. Resources will be based on DISA’s standard architecture, allowing employees to provision Windows or Red Hat Linux operating environments from a service catalog accessed via a secure web portal.
"RACE is a first for DoD – our users can now customize, purchase, and receive their test and development computing platform within 24 hours and the production environments within 72 hours, and that’s a must for worldwide missions with ever-changing computing requirements," said Sienkiewicz, the Technical Program Director for DISA.
It's not instantaneous provisioning, but it's a huge step forward, he said. "We look at the way our young warfighters are looking to consume apps and data," he said. "We need to have the ability to develop and deploy applications within the timeline of the military decision cycle."
Testing and developing applications has been a major on-ramp for cloud computing, allowing developers to work around backlogs and bureacracy in acquiring internal hardware and software for testbeds.
Convincing the Department of Defense to consider a cloud computing model wasn't easy. "This is very much a cultural shift," said Sienkiewicz. "Three quarters of our battle is on the cultural side, not technology. At the Defense Department, we have all sorts of cultural impediments and inertia."
Backing From The Top Brass
A key step in cloud adoption is gaining influence in the C-suite. The defense cloud has had an influential supporter in Gen. James Cartwright, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a previous post heading the U.S. Strategic Command, Cartwright created a blog aimed at improving the flow of information across the organization.
"Gen. Cartwright gets this," said Sienkiewicz. "He completely and totally has bought into this."
The DISA has more than 4 million users, effectively serving as the hosting provider for the Defense Department. It has 14 data centers around the globe, a number that was reduced from 194. "We’ve done a lot of consolidation, and its provided great savings for the American taxpayer," said Sienkiewicz.
More than 6,100 servers
DISA manages 445,000 square feet of data space, and runs more than 6,100 servers. 34 mainframes and has more than 3,800 terabytes of data storage.
RACE aims to provide app developers in the U.S. military with self-service provisioning through an online portal. "We’re modeling this on things you might see at Rackspace and 1&1, where you click a checkbox," said Sienkiewicz. But provisioning isn't instantaneous, as DISA is supported by fees from the various departments that use its services. The 24-hour turnaround is dictated by billing considerations, as the provisioning process requires a government credit card or completed Military Interdepartmental Purchase Request (MIPR).
"Are we completely there yet? No. But you can move your team along," said Seinkiewicz, who said RACE currently runs in one data center, but will eventually be deployed to additional data centers. "We believe we can do dynamic provisioning across multiple data centers. There are a lot of security issues you need to wrestle with first. Enablers like a data center fabric are key to figuring this out."
'SourceForge for the DoD'
DISA has also created a developer hub, Forge.mil, which Sienkiewicz describes as "SourceForge for the DoD." It currently has 3,500 users and more than 200 development projects. “You have to engage with software developers early on."
In 2010 RACE will be integrated into SIPRNET, the Department of Defense's classified network. DISA will also implement an accelerated process to have applications vetted for security through the DoD accreditation process.