Army Accentuates Cloud Computing
Officials predict an increase in RFPs under the service’s cloud contract.
The U.S. Army’s do-it-yourself culture may hinder private cloud adoption, but the service’s premier cloud program could actually promote that DIY instinct.
The service initiated the $250 million Army Cloud Computing Enterprise Transformation (ACCENT) contract last April. It is the Army’s preferred contract vehicle to procure cloud computing, transition support and application modernization services. All U.S. Defense Department organizations can use it. The contract offers a wide range of as-a-service cloud capabilities, including infrastructure, platform and software. It also allows for on- and off-premise cloud computing; public, private, hybrid and community cloud environments; mobile capabilities; and various information impact levels, which indicate the level of information that will be stored and transmitted as well as the impact of the loss of confidentiality, integrity or availability of data.
ACCENT provides Defense Department organizations a one-stop-shop contract vehicle to procure commercial cloud service offerings and technical support to transition enterprise applications to a commercial cloud environment. The objective is to move designated applications, systems and associated data to authorized commercial cloud service providers. Cloud solutions also include mobile capabilities to meet any urgent needs in contingency situations.
ACCENT marks a new approach for the Army, says Johanna Curry, a project officer under the product lead for enterprise computing within the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems. While cloud services were available through other means before ACCENT, the opportunity is the first of its kind in the Army. “What ACCENT was intended to do—and I think has done so pretty successfully—was to be the first vehicle available to provide access to a wide range of cloud service offerings that have been authorized by the DOD to process and host defense data,” Curry explains.
But as the first of its kind, ACCENT has required a lot of education for service members over the past 14 months. “This has really been an opportunity to educate the Army on what cloud computing can provide to application owners. This was our first launch to get cloud and to analyze what the requirements will be for hosting,” Curry reports.
Although ACCENT might seem to go against the Army’s independent culture, the contract vehicle can help enable that self-reliant attitude. “The Army has a do-it-yourself culture. Using cloud capabilities speeds time for development and for fielding of application products and services. When you don’t have to worry about configuring hardware and configuring development platforms—because those are services provided by the environment—you can really rapidly improve those data and services.”
The response so far has been positive and game changing. “I have been very encouraged by the number of organizations that are eager to use the best that industry has to offer instead of trying to do it themselves. That has been a really encouraging transformational shift,” she says.
Cloud computing offers a range of benefits across the military, including advantages for warfighters. “Warfighters use a lot of technology, and their access to data is critically important to their mission. Cloud computing provides widespread access to their data,” Curry points out. “If a warfighter has, for example, a mobile device or a laptop and connection to the Internet, they should be able to access cloud services at the lower authorization levels. Or if they can get to the DOD networks, they should be able to get to cloud service offerings and their data as well.”
Application centralization is one of the primary benefits. “That prevents us from having to host the same or similar applications in multiple environments to support all the way to the edge,” Curry states.
Cloud availability also aids capability development. “Availability is huge. It allows us to invest in the development of those capabilities and to improve them instead of investing in the infrastructure used to host them. We can take advantage of the advancements in commercial technology without having to reinvent it for ourselves,” Curry says.
As word spreads about ACCENT, Army officials expect the number of requests for proposals (RFPs) issued under the contract vehicle to expand in the coming months. “Our original estimate was for about eight to 10 RFPs this [fiscal] year. I haven’t seen any reason to adjust that, but it is, of course, dependent on funding. Every organization must have the funding to support the acquisition of cloud,” Curry offers.
The nature of the next RFPs might change. “Part of the [first-year] information gathering will inform the strategies of organizations for prioritizing the applications that need to move and possibly bundling them together to do multiple migrations on a single task order award. I would say that folks should expect to see some RFPs for taking a portfolio of applications and migrating them all at the same time,” Curry suggests.
So far, about $6 million in task orders have been awarded, 2.5 percent of the contract ceiling. Curry describes ACCENT as “a really good opportunity to engage with small business” because 21 small business vendors are available through ACCENT.
Among the cloud capabilities, some of the as-a-service offerings are proving the most popular with ACCENT users. “Most of the requests we get are for infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service offerings. The software-as-a-service offering is a hurdle for a lot of DOD because we have so many custom applications that won’t fit into a software-as-a-service offering,” Curry reports.
Users also adopt cloud services to establish test and development environments, most often for business systems. Using big data capabilities for test and evaluation, analysis and business intelligence also is popular.
In December, the Army made ACCENT available to the rest of the Defense Department. “We received requests from the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps. We’re working with them to get their requirements into a form that ACCENT vendors can support,” Curry says.
Personnel within the Army’s Application Migration Business Office offer consulting services to assist app owners in understanding their requirements. Those personnel also work with their counterparts in the other services. “We talk with those offices so that they can advise their application owners in the other services that there is a vehicle they can use if they need cloud services that have a specific requirement that [they] don’t meet with their current strategies. We’re working not just with the application owners but also with the migration support offices,” Curry says. “We get requests all the time to tell someone about ACCENT and what they can do with it, so there is a lot of interest, not just Army but across the department.”
ACCENT kicked off with 50 vendors, and the service recently added another 18 in what is known as an on-ramp. On-ramping allows for new vendors as well as new teaming arrangements among existing vendors. “When we had originally put the requirement out, we said we would on-ramp new vendors every year. There will be another on-ramping opportunity at the end of calendar year 2018,” Curry notes.
The multiple-vendor approach of ACCENT contrasts with the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, a 10-year, multibillion-dollar cloud computing deal the Defense Department is preparing to award to a single company. Department officials stress that JEDI will be awarded through a full and open competition, but critics worry about granting such a long-term, high-value contract to one vendor.
Curry points out that JEDI targets a single cloud environment. “There are benefits to both approaches to meet whatever an organization’s cloud objectives are,” she says. “The principle benefit of having a lot of vendors bidding on an RFP is that it promotes competition and really allows the mission owner to select from the best services that are available for their organization.”
The Army’s approach does present some challenges. “The contract is decentralized, so organizations have to be prepared to evaluate a lot of proposals that may look very similar. They have to thoroughly understand what their own technical and performance management requirements are in order to do that selection effectively,” Curry advises. “An organization may get three or four proposals for cloud hosting in the same cloud service environment, and the discriminator would be the methodology used to migrate there and what kind of support would be provided in terms of reporting back to that organization to manage the performance of that task order.”
Curry asks ACCENT’s commercial vendors to be more involved in marketing the contract to others within the Defense Department. She also asks vendors to monitor the Army’s Computer Hardware Enterprise Software and Solutions site, an online marketplace, for ACCENT-related requests for information (RFIs). “They’re going to get questions from DOD organizations that want to learn more about the best approaches to cloud prior to actually putting out a proposal. It would be helpful to monitor that and respond to that because RFIs lead to RFPs,” she says.