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Scandalous cost overruns; the newest high tech doesn’t work any better than very old tech; sweetheart monopoly deals with favorite defense contractors; sole sourcing key components from our enemies – the litany just goes on and on. The military’s relationship with technology always seems to be like watching a slow motion car crash. What are they doing with cloud computing? Could it be they are going to get it right? The answer is a hopeful “maybe” and the story of their journey is a real lesson to all.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is a huge user of IT services. It spends $30 Billion annually on IT. If DoD’s IT was a country it would be 101st among the world in GDP. It is also notorious for IT projects that have gone wrong, become boat anchors and worse. The emergence of cloud computing ten years ago and the Federal government’s “Cloud First” policy launched in 2009 pointed to a path that could lead to lower costs and more successful implementation of needed IT solutions.

First, it needed to overcome a pretty severe case of culture shock. The concept that the computers would not be in government facilities, run by government personnel or its contractors just rubbed everyone one the wrong way – most of all think of the security issues!

You have got to love the security argument. It is a well-known “secret” that 80% of the Pentagon’s IT are what is classified as “moderate” in sensitivity. The same kind of info your bank and health insurance company manages. We are not talking about putting the nuclear weapon codes into the cloud here, although how we do it today is in itself pretty scary.

Nonetheless, the pressure from above was significant so the institution responded by asserting in 2009 that it would build a cloud just for itself by itself. The DoD turned to its IT arm, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). So far they have had three strikes but are still swinging. Here is the tale: DISA launched two initiatives: RACE – Rapid Access Computing Environment – to supply Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud and STAX – Secure Technology Application eXecution – to provide Platform as a Service (PaaS).

With RACE you could get capabilities provisioned within 24 to 72 hours. This was when Amazon was enabling provisioning in its cloud in minutes. RACE was secure but expensive – and really in the end pretty much old school, not cloud. As you might have guessed, adoption of the offering was not a barnburner. STAX seems to have died a stillbirth common to a lot of attempts at PaaS at that time.

Regardless, DISA tried to force everyone, especially the separate armed services to adopt them under the ruse that it was a secure and honest broker of cloud services. You can just hear the drawbridge being raised to protect the entrenched bureaucracy.

Recognizing that these initiatives were not getting traction, five years later in 2014 the DoD launched “milCloud”.  Another attempt to establish a cloud internally for the military community. Built in two government data centers and managed by a no-name contractor in what looked like a sweetheart deal it offered much more cloud-like capabilities. It was definitely less expensive than RACE – except when you compared it to commercial cloud providers who were by then supplying government approved, secure clouds like AWS GovCloud. Once again, DISA had built a real winner – not!

Well here we are at the present time – seven years later and no one will tell how much money sunk – and the armed services are done with DISA’s attempts to hold back the tide. One by one, they are going direct to commercial providers who offer security, performance and cost effective cloud solutions. But, the bureaucrats just will not quit and so, last month DISA launched “milCloud 2.0”. Here is where they finally might have learned their lesson.

Rather than trying to build it themselves they are soliciting a commercial cloud service provider to come and deploy a community cloud in a DoD secure set of facilities. It looks like they are taking a page from the CIA who three years earlier in 2013 had contracted Amazon Web Services to build just that kind of thing for America’s spooks. That cloud is up and running and in fact if you have the right clearance you can even access a spy’s marketplace of solutions – pretty wild, isn’t it?

Now, before you shake your head, wring your hands and snicker at the foibles of government bureaucracy think about your IT shop. Think about how they are trying to defend their turf. Think about how users increasingly go around them. See the lessons? Hopefully, they are not blowing billions but how much time and money has been wasted?

 

 

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