The US Army advances on the cloud

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan April 9, 2015
The US Army is planning an advance on the cloud, but remains alert to the potential risks associated with such a move.

US army
At a time when security concerns remain stubbornly at the top of every damn barriers to adoption survey and the post=Snowden paranoia is still running rampant, it’s encouraging to see the US Army taking a more progressive stance on cloud computing take-up.

Last month the Army issued a formal cloud computing strategy that talks in terms of creating a cloud-enabled network of partners who can:

leverage approved DoD, federal and commercial Cloud Service Providers.

In a blog post, Army Deputy Chief Information Officer Gary Wang explains:

Transitioning to cloud-based solutions and services advances the Army's long-term objective to reduce our ownership, operation and sustainment of hardware and other commoditized information technology (IT). Procuring these capabilities as services will allow the Army to focus resources more effectively to meet evolving mission needs.

Over time, this transition will increase IT operational efficiency, network security, and agility. It will improve interoperability with our mission partners and posture the Army to adopt innovative technology quicker and at lower cost.

To that end, the army is developing a Commercial Cloud Services Provider policy guidance to be published within the coming weeks. This will outline the requirements for the use of off premises commercial Cloud Services Providers, as well as providing an overview of the army applications migration process flow.

The strategy also lists several other benefits that would come from adopting a cloud-based environment:

  • Support for the Joint Information Environment by providing capability in centralized locations that are accessible across the DOD Information Network
  • Transitioning away from owning, operating and sustaining hardware and other commoditized IT in order to better focus its resources on meeting mission needs.
  • Support for the army’s Mission Command Network 2020 Focused End State 4.0.
  • Provision of a platform for the creation of standard solutions and efficiencies that can be applied consistently to ensure both capabilities and cybersecurity are effectively implemented seamlessly across the institutional and operational environment.
  • Provision of infrastructure to enable more agile and faster implementation of new systems.
  • Provision of flexibility by using automation to expand or contract application resources based on utilization.
  • Illustrating the kind of benefits that Wang is talking about, the US Army this week released details of how it has adopted IBM hybrid cloud technology to underpin its huge logistics system.

Logistically speaking

Last year, the army moved its Logistics Support Activity (LOGSA) system to the hybrid cloud and has realised cost savings of around 50% as a result.

LOGSA is used by 65,000 army personnel to acquire, manage and maintain inventories of goods and products that soldiers need while in the field, and relies on data analytics and business intelligence tools to do this job. The system  processes about 40 million unique data transactions each day, which to put that in context, is more than the New York Stock Exchange.

US soldier
It provides logistics intelligence, life cycle support, technical advice, and assistance to the current and future force; integrates logistics information  for worldwide equipment readiness and distribution analysis; and offers asset visibility for timely and proactive decision making.

The army is now turning its attention to new analytics services, such as data mining, which can be delivered via the hybrid cloud to all parts of the organisation as well as the logistics teams.

Anne Altman, general manager for US federal at IBM, said:

The army not only recognised a trend in IT that could transform how it delivers services to its logistics personnel around the world, but it also implemented a cloud environment quickly and is already experiencing significant benefits. It is taking advantage of the inherent benefits of hybrid cloud: security and the ability to connect it with an existing IT system. It also gives the army the flexibility to incorporate new analytics services and mobile capabilities.

But despite such declared benefits, it’s not going to be a full-scale rush to the cloud. There need to be checks and balances, warns Lieutenant General Robert S Ferrell, CIO of the US Army in a foreword to the cloud strategy document:

Preparing for this dynamic shift in the way the Army develops, acquires and delivers IT capabilities and services comes with significant challenges and inherent risks.

The Army must ensure that it does not compromise its mission by unrealistically trading the confidentiality, integrity and availability of critical data and information in pursuit of the benefits the cloud may offer.

The potential vulnerabilities of, and impacts to, expeditionary operations in highly contested and inevitably degraded communication environments must be carefully and continuously assessed and weighed against the advantages of adopting cloud technologies.

My take

An encouraging example of how cloud computing can find a foothold in even the most risk averse of environments.