DoD Gearing Up for the Cloud, Mobility

Arthur Cole

The military has always been a technology leader. The Internet itself started out as a Cold War-era program designed to maintain communications infrastructure even in the event of a devastating loss, say, by a nuclear strike.

So in order to read the tea leaves when it comes to modern communications, it makes sense to take a look at what the military is doing and then gauge how much of it is likely to trickle down into civilian spheres.

Not surprisingly, the Department of Defense is on the cusp of several major technology initiatives designed to bring its infrastructure into the 21st century. As you would expect, the cloud is poised to play a major role in this process. DoD recently issued a broad outline of its plans, which seems to shift the focus away from data center- and enterprise-centric development and deployment toward one that stresses agility, cost-reduction and the needs of stakeholders. Expect to see a fair amount of data center consolidation as things progress, as well as greater reliance on commercial cloud services. Naturally, this won't come off without a fair number of hitches, which the organization is expecting will center largely around funding, data migration and management and entrenched dependencies on current systems and processes.

A key component in all this will be the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which will act as the cloud services broker. The group's primary function will be to facilitate service deployment from both internal and external sources, while at the same time holding down costs and maintaining a high level of security. All military organizations will have to either obtain services directly through DISA or receive a waiver from a review panel established by the DoD CIO, which will presumably establish a vetting process to ensure third-party services meet appropriate federal standards.

At the same time, the military is also working quickly to increase enterprise mobility, going so far as to give serious consideration to establishing a BYOD policy, even for combat operations. As described by high-ranking officials to the trade publication Defense Systems, the goal is to improve information speed and quality to soldiers in the field, empowering them with tools like real-time mapping and data overlay, identity confirmation and up-to-date mechanical or health care information. The trick will be to establish secure, reliable wireless infrastructure — most likely in a foreign operating theater — that is resistant to both physical and electronic warfare.

Each of these programs are taking place under the context of an update to the DoD Architectural Framework (DoDAF), which seeks to shift military IT from a technology footing to a "capabilities-driven" environment, according to Chris Armstrong, president of Armstrong Process Group. This is a key shift in the military's Enterprise Architecture (EA) in that it enables a more results-oriented approach to hardware and software deployment and integration, while at the same time instituting a "fit-for-purpose" principal in which organizations can select their architectures and models based on mission requirements rather than implement all models within the DoDAF viewpoint. A crucial next step would be to integrate the new framework with leading commercial programs like The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF).

No doubt, there are some aspects to all three of these programs that won't be made public for some time, if ever. Still, the federal government is the single largest employer in the world, and the military constitutes a large portion of its IT infrastructure. Anything this behemoth does to get ready for the next-generation data environment bears watching — both as a means to emulate it successes and avoid its mistakes.

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