For DoD, the Road to the Cloud Is Paved With Promise and Pitfalls

May 26, 2011
By Max Cacas

Additional headlines, bullet points, and takeaways from the AFCEA "Solutions" series conference, "Critical Issues in C4I", sponsored by AFCEA International and the George Mason University C4I conference, held May 24th-25th at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.:

  • One of the biggest benefits touted when it comes to cloud computing is the potential for businesses and government alike to save money on mission-essential computing resources. But Brig. Gen. Steven Spano, USAF, Air Combat Command, Director of Communications, A-6 said if the only goal is only to save money, "we're going to fail." He said, instead, that any strategy deploying IT resources into the cloud must be developed for the sake of creating "efficiency," and that supporters of the cloud risk "over-promising, and under-performing" when it comes to defining that strategy. David Drake, with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, told a conference panel that the true promise of cloud computing will be in reducing delivery time for data, and increasing agility within the organization. Lee Badger, with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the organization tasked with laying down many of the government's tech standards for cloud computing, believes that its too soon to really ascertain the benefits of cloud computing, saying only at this point, the economies of scale will inevitably reveal the true benefits of the migration to the cloud. Spano said one side benefit to cloud computing will be to improve recruiting and retention among the ranks, because the cloud will make possible rapid development of the kind of applications today's young people already use and expect with the new crop of popular mobile devices like Android smart phones and Apple iPads.
  • During the second plenary address to the C4I conference, Dr. Ken Gabriel, deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) briefed the attendees on advances in the ARGUS-IS, or the Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System. The $18 billion program, begun in 2007, is designed to provide a high-resolution camera and imaging system designed to provide improved surveillance capability and tactical information. A successful test of the new platform took place more than a year ago.
  • Could "micro-clouds" - smaller-scale servers deployed to forward locations at the "edge" of a network, say in a battlefield environment - increase efficiency in delivering needed information to warfighters and their commanders? It's possible, said Patrick Chanezon, Cloud Advocacy Team Manager with Google, who suggests 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 the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) believes such micro-clouds could be the key to extend the cloud in a practical way to the dismounted war fighter; the key, he says is designing the system so it knows when it is connected to the larger cloud - and when it is not. Annette Redmond, Special Advisor to the Army's Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) said her agency is deploying a "secure sandbox" in which younger warfighters comfortable with developing smaller computer applications operating on mobile devices can innovate outside of the existing acquisition cycle, and deploy the results in something akin to Apple's "App Store."
  • At a conference panel on maintaining command and control in a cloud environment, Dan Kent with CISCO Federal says that in planning for a transition to the cloud, its important for cloud architects and IT support personnel to remember to "virtualize" the switches, firewalls, and other components that make up the existing infrastructure, to insure that applications dependent on these components continue to function in the new cloud. Dale Cline with netForensics says he has yet to see cloud architects "play catch up" with security concerns concerning "multitenancy" in cloud computing - multiple, disparate organizations sharing the same physical blade server and storage devices in a cloud environment. So far, says Cline, multitenancy sharing is not a problem, but its something looming as more and more people get into the cloud.
  • Terry Simpson, Defense Intelligence Senior Official (DISL) and Program Executive Officer (PEO) with the Navy's C4I discussed the need for "asymmetric acquisition" reform when it comes to procuring the military's future technology needs. He acknowledges that "our military is hampered by complex tools, and mission-unique systems", and that "we are not setting the pace in the IT sector." Simpson says he favors a "portfolio approach to managing IT programs," one that promotes the rapid delivery of such programs.
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