With the thousands of applications running on U.S. Defense Department networks, programmers have literally been dream weavers, pulling together the pieces necessary to make these systems fully functional. Hundreds of contracting organizations are tied up in these networks, making it a monumental challenge to pool all resources into an efficient, future "whole." But as with any evolution, it cannot take place overnight. In his second installment in a series of articles covering defense information technology, Paul A. Strassmann addresses the potential future of Defense Department cloud computing in his article, "Reaching the Clouds Won't Be a One-Stop Trip," in this issue of SIGNAL Magazine. Moving the Defense Department from its fractured, diverse legacy environment into a high-performance cloud will take effort, money and disruption in operations. It should be accomplished by making technically safe moves, but only if gains are realized at each step. Step one is a server consolidation ratio of at least 15:1, which can be achieved through virtualizing computing capacities. The servers then can share machine cycles in a pool rather than individually. This sharing also applies to disk storage combinations housing Defense Department databases. Virtualization of servers, along with installation of monitoring and control software, can deliver more than 70 percent reductions in capital costs for equipment if new servers are acquired. This leads to cost savings in personnel and electricity expenses. The good news: The break-even point for taking this approach could occur within two years of implementation. Virtualization will let organizations take advantage of multicore microprocessors to allocate computing power as the demand rises, and it also will help reduce disk storage by up to 50 percent by managing disk space for multiple apps simultaneously. Defense Department components may proceed with virtualizing their server clusters. Standardization of hypervisor software will be required, which will lead to the next step. Organizations now can reduce the cost of achieving close to 100 percent uptime as well as operate with a much smaller number of data centers. These centers are geographically dispersed, but they are connected via dedicated fiber optic circuits. By automating managerial tasks, cloud computing will simplify a wide range of service offerings. This ensures the delivery of service levels regardless of the physical infrastructure, diversity of computing devices or network configurations. Streamlining operations includes encapsulating legacy applications in a centrally managed environment. Once legacy apps are deployed in the virtual cloud environment, individual application packages can be relocated to different virtual computers. From a budget perspective, customers can stop viewing information technology as a fixed annual budget item, which in the Defense Department takes a long time to negotiate and authorize. Instead, customers can pay for computing as a metered expense, as needed and whenever used. Software can be offered and maintained on the cloud, where the customer pays only for its use and also can host its own software on the cloud. Defense Department components will not always be self-contained. They will have to draw on commercial suppliers' public clouds, which can provide complementary capabilities such as access to public clouds. Security will come in the form of offerings that certify security assurance for every connection. A variety of commercial security tools already are available. Cloud computing is already a reality; it's also the continued wave of the future. Is this plan for the Defense Department to rise to the computing stratosphere a realistic one in terms of time, expectations, security and costs? Share your ideas and suggestions here.