DHS deputy CIO sees opportunity in ‘elasticity’ of cloud amid data center consolidation effort

The Department of Homeland Security cites the Office of Management and Budget’s new Cloud Smart strategy and an ongoing challenge to consolidate data centers as part of a larger rethinking around how it stores its data.

“There’s a lot of thought being put across what is the operating model for storage for the Department of Homeland Security,” Steve Rice, the DHS’s deputy chief information officer, said Wednesday at Meritalk’s Data Center Brainstorm in Washington.

By June 2020, contracts for DHS’s Data Center 1 (DC 1) and Data Center 2 (DC 2) both expire. This comes as DHS is preparing new acquisitions for the continued consolidation and modernization of its data centers.

Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa said in August that DHS is starting to work on the strategy to recompete those vehicles.

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Part of DHS’s ongoing data center consolidation strategy includes a move to the cloud. The agency has met OMB’s mandate to close six of its tiered data centers, but must still close an additional 19 non-tiered data systems before October 2020.

“When we look at it, the evolution of the cloud allows us to think about where the elasticity of our model moves out to public cloud services, and then also ensuring that we understand an inventory, a rationalization of our applications to understand what are the applications and services that would move,” Rice said.

Rice added that expiring contracts for the two data centers, located in Stennis, Mississippi and south-central Virginia, serve as a “forcing initiative” for DHS to reevaluate its current storage situation, and where it would like to be.

“Let’s make some smart decisions, make sure that they simplify the architecture, let’s make sure that we’re understanding where we’re going to compute together so as we can start making informed decisions about the analytical needs that might materialize over the next several years.”

In looking to the future, Rice said DHS must take advantage of emerging technologies that are “either on the horizon or just coming past the horizon now” in order to map the future of cloud storage.

It’s “only a matter of time,” he said, until artificial intelligence becomes a bigger part of federal CIO conversations, but beyond that, he said it’s hard to map out tools needed in the next decade or so.

“It’s kind of hard to think about what the next 15-16 years of governance are going to be,” Rice said. “The technology is still emerging, especially at the pace that they’re coming out. [Cloud] Smart to us is taking advantage where it makes sense for the mission.”

But the conversation around cloud extends beyond the Office of the CIO.

“It can’t just be an IT decision,” Rice said. “There’s a lot of work that goes on to inform the [Chief Financial Officer] community, the [Chief Procurement Officer] community, the [Chief Human Capital Officer] community to understand that as technology shifts, it really transforms how we deliver services and it starts with the people [and] ends with the mission.”

Addressing ‘limitations’ of DHS cyber workforce

Rice also gave an update on DHS’s effort to stand up a “cyber talent management system,” which would give DHS to offer in-demand IT talent pay and benefits beyond what’s offered under the General Schedule.

“It is a system, a process by which we recognize limitations in some of our cyber workforce in three dimensions — the dimension of recruitment, retention and then continuous enhancements to ensure they’re staying abreast of new technologies and staying part of the DHS mission,” he said.

DHS Chief Human Capital Officer Angela Bailey told House lawmakers in March that DHS would roll out the new cyber talent management system “in the very near future.”

The benefits on the table include student loan repayment, as well as alternate work schedules that include telework environments, including “maybe work that is 100 percent offsite,” Rice said. “So that we can address the ability to balance the needs of DHS cyber, but also balance how do we become a recruiter of choice so that our mission aspects are being addressed.”

The team working on the upcoming strategy includes Rice, Bailey and DHS CIO John Zangardi.