• The Defense Department’s cloud computing strategy recognizes mission and tactical-edge needs along with the requirement to prepare for artificial intelligence. Credit: TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay
     The Defense Department’s cloud computing strategy recognizes mission and tactical-edge needs along with the requirement to prepare for artificial intelligence. Credit: TheDigitalArtist/Pixabay

Is Your Agency’s Network Cloud Ready?

April 1, 2019
By Grimt Habtemariam

Infrastructure is the first step toward cloud computing.

In every recent discussion I have had with government and defense leaders around IT modernization, the conversation quickly leads to cloud and its role in enabling agile ways of working for government. Many agencies have already developed cloud migration targets and are looking at how they can accelerate cloud adoption.

This shift is happening. The Department of Defense (DoD) just recently announced its cloud strategy, and last September the White House issued its Cloud Smart initiative. Based on these actions and what’s being discussed daily, it’s clear the government’s journey to cloud has started and the current focus is on accelerating the path to get there while minimizing risk.

For instance, the DoD ordered that more than 100 data centers in “Fourth Estate” agencies migrate their applications to milCloud 2.0, a commercially-run cloud hosted by the Defense Information Systems Agency. This initiative focuses on cloud adoption and data center consolidation as part of the DoD’s effort to supply the warfighter with an information environment that transforms data into actionable information rapidly and efficiently.

However, even with this increased focus on cloud, the readiness of on-premise infrastructure to support cloud services, a prerequisite for the successful adoption of cloud, is often an afterthought.

Cloud Success Starts with the Infrastructure

Network requirements are going through a fundamental shift in which the traditional model of accessing centrally-hosted, curated data is coupled with the need for a distributed decentralized architecture that allows multiple personnel to have access to real-time data at the edge.

Most on-premise infrastructures for DoD were not initially designed to support the consumption of off-premise cloud services, especially not with today’s vision of a multicloud environment in mind. As agencies accelerate their journey toward cloud adoption and look to take advantage of the benefits offered by commercial clouds, they must also assess whether their network is ready to support the successful adoption of commercial cloud services.

The Need for a Cloud-Ready Network

A cloud-ready network enables data to be created, processed and used everywhere—from commercial off-premise clouds to the tactical network's edge. For military leaders, soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, cloud-ready networks provide a data-enabled operational ecosystem that is artificial intelligence (AI)-ready and supports hybrid deployment models by design. It enhances mission assurance with continuous monitoring of its own health, locking down and remediating threats at machine speed, and intuitively managing routing based on the need for speed, efficiency, security and arrival surety. 

As an example, an operational mission focused on tracking a threat-to-force is able to leverage data from sources such as space-based assets that provide imagery and signal surveillance to identify changes in key parameters of interest. This data, while enroute to tactical, operational and strategic command and control centers, is progressively exposed to cloud-hosted analytics that identify adjustments required for the multidomain forces to operate in the changing environment. This mission is also able to leverage sensor system parametric updates, such as airborne package updates carried securely across a combination of defense and commercial links including fiber, long-range radios and short-range datalinks, increasing the force protection posture and empowering the warfighter with data critical to ensure mission success. With a cloud-ready network, all of this is possible.

Harnessing the compute power of the cloud enables our military to become hyper-aware on multiple fronts, expedite information sharing across theaters and establish an advantage on the battlefield.

Next Steps for a Cloud-Ready Network

DoD’s cloud strategy outlines the strategic approaches the department will pursue to enable the adoption of general purpose and fit-for-purpose clouds. This strategy recognizes mission and tactical edge needs along with the requirement to prepare for AI.

However, to meet both enterprise and edge requirements, agencies’ networks must be able to support the growing number of hyper-distributed applications provisioned across virtual machines, containers and bare-metal hardware across data centers and clouds. Additionally, the data being generated by applications, IoT sensors, big data analytics and AI and machine-learning engines is also hyper-distributed. This data generated at the edge will need to be processed in the cloud or on premise—wherever it can be executed at speed to meet mission needs. 

So how can this be accomplished?

Agency leaders need to build environments that meet the demands of future missions with technologies, such as application-centric infrastructures for a holistic approach to security and governance; hybrid-cloud deployment models to deliver the benefits of both on premise and cloud; software-defined wide-area networks to ensure end user experience; and performance monitoring solutions that can analyze and act on application performance data in real time regardless of where it is hosted.

Cloud is coming and the need for it is growing. The question is whether agencies are getting ready fast enough to embrace it.

Grimt Habtemariam is a federal cloud strategist at Cisco.

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