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Integrate the Cloud Into a C4I Strategy

July 2011
By Max Cacas, SIGNAL Magazine
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Defense Department Chief Information Officer Teri Takai outlines cloud security issues.

When it comes to the transition from command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) systems to cloud computing architectures, both the challenge—and the promise—boil down to “getting the right information to the right individual at the right time and doing it securely.”

Teri Takai, assistant secretary of defense for networks and Defense Department chief information officer (CIO), offered her thoughts on the path to cloud computing as the keynote speaker for the AFCEA Solutions Series conference, titled “Critical Issues in C4I,” sponsored by AFCEA International and the George Mason University C4I Center on May 24-25.

Takai acknowledged that it is “hard to go to a conference these days where they aren’t talking about the cloud,” and she offered a progress report on some of the current initiatives relevant to the Defense Department’s transition to the cloud. She outlined a broad set of initiatives aimed at computer network defense, which focus on detecting anomalous behavior to uncover potential problems originating from within organizations; pilot security programs in the defense/industrial base; and a governmentwide supply chain risk management strategy, including a working agreement signed in May between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in the area of cybersecurity.

Takai described other steps either completed or in progress, including creating the U.S. Cyber Command within the Defense Department; initiating steps to reform information technology acquisition policies; standardizing and simplifying information technology consolidation efforts; eliminating data centers; and addressing identity management.

The most tangible of those efforts now underway concerns the effort to consolidate all email in the Pentagon’s sphere, possibly under a common operating platform hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which is one of the scenarios under consideration.

Takai expressed that her goal as CIO is to help provide a mission-oriented focus to the transition to the cloud, and she added that she does not want to see an ad hoc evolution to cloud architectures. Instead, she said the transition must be viewed holistically, and she adds that for the first time, the Pentagon is being forced to deal with commercially available products and make them part of a cloud solution.

She explained that younger warfighters are entering the military accustomed to iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys and other mobile computing platforms, and they expect to use them, not only to communicate with their families, but also to communicate with their colleagues.

When asked how she might measure the success of any cloud computing strategy at the Pentagon, Takai suggested that speeding up the acquisitions process at a time when technology development continues to move faster than our ability to keep up might be one indicator of tangible improvements.

Col. Michael Jones, USA (Ret.), chief of emerging technologies, CIO/G-6, gave the second-day keynote address and noted that the most recent challenge to the U.S. Army is responding to the explosive growth of mobile devices, such as iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android tablets. Unlike laptops, which he said can be secured, mobile devices have different security challenges but still need to be securable while meeting the needs of warfighters in terms of accessing information.

Col. Jones stressed the need for training for information technology professionals during a time when the Army’s enterprise networks expect to be extended to the edge—right out to where commanders and their troops in theater need information to make strategic and tactical decisions.

Asked if he could quantify success within the Army when it comes to cloud computing, Col. Jones said his organization’s mantra of “better, faster and cheaper” would be his rule of measure. He said tools are available to quantify cloud-computing results for faster outcomes in pushing mission-critical information to the warfighter.

Could micro-clouds—smaller-scale servers deployed to forward locations at the edge of a network—increase efficiency in delivering needed information to warfighters and their commanders? It is possible, said Patrick Chanezon, cloud advocacy team manager with Google, who suggested that such servers could run on something as small as a high-capacity USB thumb drive. At the same time, Richard Hale, chief information assurance executive with DISA, said he believes such micro-clouds could be critical to extending the cloud in a practical way to the dismounted warfighter. The key, he said, is designing the system so it knows when it is connected to the larger cloud and when it is not.