• A U.S. Army soldier tests his battle systems in the field at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Credit: Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
     A U.S. Army soldier tests his battle systems in the field at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Credit: Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division

DOD Cloud Strategy Aids Information Dominance

February 3, 2020
By Brandon Shopp

But not every application is appropriate for the cloud.

Cloud computing can quicken U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) efforts toward information dominance, but agencies must be measured and deliberate in the march toward the cloud.

The DOD cloud strategy recognizes that the department’s disjointed and siloed systems have negatively impacted the effectiveness of warfighters, decision makers and staff. “The Department of Defense has multiple disjointed and stovepiped information systems distributed across modern and legacy infrastructure around the globe, leading to a litany of problems that impact warfighters', decision makers', and DOD staff abilities to organize, analyze, secure, scale and ultimately, capitalize on critical information to make timely, data-driven decisions,” the 2018 report says.

According to the strategy, only cloud computing, rather than traditional data centers, will “enable the department to harness the full power of its data and information systems.” In short, the strategy calls for leveraging the cloud to achieve the lofty goal of information dominance—the use of data to provide the U.S. military with a key strategic advantage over adversaries.

That’s what makes the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract so important. With its mega-investment in cloud services, the DOD is showing an unwavering commitment to providing staff, decision makers and warfighters with real-time access to critical information. Leveraging the cloud can help these people make quicker data-driven decisions—and lay the groundwork for what comes next.

Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are key to the information dominance strategy, and the cloud underpins those technologies. AI and machine learning can provide agencies and warfighters with the actionable information that help them make critical decisions in real time, but their ability to make sense of raw data depends heavily on the compute power provided by the cloud. A cloud-based infrastructure gives organizations the ability to compute and crunch data, in real time and in one place instead of over disparate systems across the globe.

Gaining a competitive advantage depends heavily on troops’ ability to access the actionable information provided by AI and machine learning in an on-demand manner. Therefore, using the edge of the network to deliver information at speed is critical.

The cloud allows organizations to deliver services, including high-bandwidth applications that provide video and audio, at the edge of the network. This enables warfighters and DOD staff to get critical information much more quickly, leading to better and faster decisions on the battlefield.

With the cloud, an organization’s infrastructure can be virtualized, and agencies don’t need to concern themselves with the distance between information processing and user consumption points. As a result, typical challenges, like where on-premises servers are located and where staff/users are located, aren’t issues.

The U.S. Army’s Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE) is one example of the DOD taking its systems to the cloud to improve efficiencies and data sharing on the battlefield. According to the Army, “CP CE will eliminate stovepiped legacy systems and provide an integrated, interoperable, cybersecure and cost-effective computing infrastructure framework for multiple warfighting functions.”

The Army’s effort exemplifies the DOD’s cloud strategy push. It shows how effective the cloud can be in bringing together disparate systems and establishing a powerful platform for information dissemination and communications. The result is a more informed, effective and dominant military.

While the cloud can accelerate the DOD’s efforts toward information dominance, the agency should adopt a measured approach to cloud migration. While it might be tempting to go all in, it’s important to remember that moving systems to the cloud environment is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution. Public sector organizations need to first take a hard inventory and complete an analysis on all of their systems to determine what is and isn’t a candidate to move to the cloud.

Indeed, not all systems are truly cloud appropriate. For instance, many older legacy technologies were never designed with the cloud in mind. It may be more trouble than it’s worth to attempt to migrate those technologies onto a cloud platform. Instead, agencies may opt to start from the beginning with more flexible and agile solutions that are already cloud-ready. 

The DOD recognized this point in its report: “DOD is driving toward an enterprise cloud environment that is composed of a general-purpose cloud and multiple fit-for-purpose clouds. In addition, it should be recognized that the department will still need non-cloud data center capabilities for applications that are not suited for the cloud. Over time, with the adoption of an enduring enterprise cloud strategy, the non-cloud environment should become smaller.”

Once an agency determines what should be migrated to the cloud, it should start with the most simple and basic systems—not the most complex systems in the arsenal. Go for the low hanging fruit first to get some quick wins. Discover what works best and use that knowledge to tackle the harder lifts. As more basic systems are migrated to the cloud, the organization’s information technology staff will be able to develop best practices on how to effectively migrate infrastructure and services.

Brandon Shopp is the vice president of product strategy and security at SolarWinds, a provider of information technology infrastructure management software.


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