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CLOUD COMPUTING AND THE INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Dan Callahan

Wait.  Don’t roll your eyes!  If you’re over 40 years old, you may be tempted to do so, but I would caution you, to stop doing so, if that’s the case.  What matters is the client’s perception of “Cloud    Computing” (CC) and what they think about it.  If they either want  to or currently do-- believe in CC, then don’t argue with them (even behind their back).

 

Here is my view, from the field (figuratively…I am referring to the business development arena).  INSCOM believes they are deploying cloud computing and to a certain extent, they are.  They are taking small steps on a long journey to arrive at cloud computing, at an undetermined point in time, somewhere in the mid to long term future.  What matters is how they define “cloud” and how they are applying the new technologies in pursuit of their mission.  When we clear away the hype, CC is more of a theme and a very broad set of imperatives at the architectural level of an IT enterprise.  As an approach, it can determine an optimized way for large or even small organizations to highly leverage databases, applications, networks and systems (DANS).  And, yes, it will prescribe various tools and specific functionalities (Hadoop, Citrix, VM-Ware, etc.).  However, I am less concerned with the academic definitions of CC (e.g., abstraction of recourses, elasticity of compute power, on demand models of allocation, API to API integration, subscription service delivery models that are variable, etc.). than I am with the user’s experience.  If the IC user did not have to acquire a software license agreement and doesn’t care where the server is located, then they’re using CC (at least as a first step!).  This is, in fact, happening in the intelligence community agencies now.

 

Although the specifics software and hardware choices are important for the hands-on technologist, many in the industry don’t touch any part of the cloud except for PowerPoint slides.  Thus, we (i.e., I) tend to view CC as a set of architectural imperatives, such as:

·         Virtualization of applications (think “it’s only an icon to me… I don’t care where the server is located”),

·         Commoditized servers in an highly agile and flexible allocation delivery model,

·         Optimized (bulk) storage of data in a secure location(s), unknown to the user,  and

·         Enterprise identity and access management (IDAM) functionality that dramatically minimizes the importance of my location, etc.

Thus, if an agency is heading towards this set of technology themes, I say, “they are using the cloud”.  Obviously INSCOM is getting there one step at a time—and I would have it no other way!  I am basing my comment on comments from one of their DISLs who spoke at an AFCEA Solutions Series event, this week.  As another example, Citrix has been all over the IC for years now!  What’s the big deal?  The cloud has been emerging for years!  You might even say the trend was fully established and the term “cloud” is simply a label and nothing more.

 

So, if you are one of those late adopters to CC especially for the intelligence community, and may have had a mildly negative attitude towards the hype, I suggest you simply view this as a broad set of evolving themes that leverage the innovations of IT that have presented themselves over the last five years. 

Now for the $64 million dollar questions: 

·         Does your technology innovation or your service delivery model (for whichever service you provide) map to-- or begin implementing cloud features?

·         Is there a way to become more flexible on how you scale up or scale down and can you pass this on to your client agency? 

·         Is there way to move towards on-demand services? 

·         Can you reduce the agency’s need for capital outlay?  

·         When your client purchases whatever it is that you’re selling, does location matter less today than it did last year?  If so, then you’re headed in the right direction.

What is your definition of cloud computing for the IC?  What have I missed?