Army’s approach to buying cloud services serves as foundation for JWCC

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CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated on Feb. 16 to better reflect the Army’s approach to buying cloud services through a reseller.

All of the excitement and consternation about the Defense Department’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) over the past year may be over blown.

In many ways, DoD is replicating the Army’s approach for much of...

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated on Feb. 16 to better reflect the Army’s approach to buying cloud services through a reseller.

All of the excitement and consternation about the Defense Department’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) over the past year may be over blown.

In many ways, DoD is replicating the Army’s approach for much of the previous two years to buying cloud services.

Paul Puckett, the director of the Enterprise Cloud Management Agency that reports to the Office of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Army, said the Army, and really the DoD at large, must accelerate the change in the way they buy cloud services.

Paul Puckett is the director of the Army’s Enterprise Cloud Management Agency.

“When you talk about doing this at scale, I believe the right strategy is you have to get after essentially a contract agreement, something structured simply around buying cloud because what that means is it establishes a relationship with the cloud service providers (CSPs) that understands the full picture of the possibilities when it comes to our investment in cloud infrastructure,” Puckett said on Ask the CIO. “You have to establish those relationships as close as you possibly can directly with the CSPs so they can compete against each other for putting out the lowest rates possible to buy their services. What that means for us is DoD owns the accounts so therefore, we own the continuity of the capability, leveraging the cloud, so we can see our investment and also optimize that over time.”

The need and ability to optimize cloud, have a standard cost structure and to own the relationship with the CSP has been missing from DoD’s IT modernization tool box for much of the past decade.

Puckett said for too long the Army was buying “full stack acquisition,” meaning the cloud was part of the overall application development or modernization effort, which put them at a disadvantage.

“Oftentimes these integrators, to be competitive, leverage the relationships that they have maybe with a reseller or their own corporate relationships to get access to a cloud service provider, and they were packaging it all up together and essentially presenting it as their full stack solution. That’s great because we’re able to see capabilities starting to get built and there is good that that came out of that. But when you take that model and try and employ it to the scale of the Army or the DoD, that model doesn’t scale,” he said. “There are applications that if they’re using their corporate relationship to get access to a CSP, and maybe there’s a great discount rates that their corporate relationship is getting, but we can’t see what we’re spending for cloud infrastructure. That’s an issue because the integrators are the ones that actually owns the account, and therefore owns the rights to the account, owns the actual use of the account, has all the administrative access to the account, and this becomes a challenge, especially as you see the DoD lean in and saying that we need to own our data.”

Tracking the use of cloud services

Puckett said what the Army has done through its Cloud Account Management Optimization (CAMO) other transaction authority agreement is have an agreement with a reseller, Accenture Federal, which is negotiating rates with the CSPs and having the reseller track,  monitor and optimize the consumption of cloud services. He said the Army then is asking system integrators and other vendors to bid on the applications without worrying about the cost or access to the cloud services.

“Part of our model is we want to let a contract and have the absolute best of the best understand what it means to provide essentially a secure cloud ecosystem as a service. This is what we call cArmy, which is really us leveraging hyperscalers to deploy the Army enterprise when it comes to the common services for adopting cloud. When you have those building blocks, we’ve got a universal way for the Army to buy essentially an enterprise secure cloud ecosystem,” he said. “Now, when we go and compete for delivering mission capabilities, we’re having companies present the absolute best of the best of the solution for those mission capabilities. They’re not competing on their ability to like resell the cloud for us. They’re competing on their ability to essentially design and deliver and iterate against the best mission capabilities possible, leveraging a government secure cloud ecosystem, and leveraging essentially an enterprise way to buy cloud at scale.”

The benefits of this approach to the Army are clear.

First, Puckett said the Army is standardizing the price of cloud services. Today one organization may be paying 10% or 20% more for the same services as another. Through CAMO, and eventually through JWCC, the idea is that the costs for cloud services will all start at the same place.

“We start to get this essentially smooth ability to be able to estimate what our investment in cloud is going to look like. With the old model, when we go full stack acquisition, I could be paying five cents for a virtual machine, or I might be spending 50 bucks on another. That volatility creates an issue, especially when you want to start [to do budget planning].  Seeing what my investment in the cloud is going to look like oftentimes wasn’t possible in the old model,” he said. “We need to be able to start to plan for that and see what our trajectory starts to look like over time. That’s even more important as we are essentially pre-designing systems to leverage cloud infrastructure effectively and efficiently.”

In some examples, the Army is able to actually save $250,000 a month by improving how they manage their spending on cloud services through cArmy and this approach.

New role for system integrators

Puckett decided to more explicitly than maybe ever before describe the Army’s approach after the Defense Information Systems Agency’s strategic plan caused some confusion about the role of CSPs, third-party resellers and systems integrators going forward, particularly under JWCC.

Puckett said the role of third party resellers and systems integrators are not going way. He said their role is shifting away from that full-stack acquisition to focusing on delivering capabilities.

“I think the fact that we’re in a transitional architecture, both organizationally as well as from an acquisition perspective, which leaves vendors asking which way am I supposed to be interacting with the government when it comes to cloud? But what I hope is clear is absolutely we are on this trajectory where we can start to deliver more enterprise services as a service to include an enterprise vehicle for buying cloud, and which has the intention of JWCC across the DoD,” Puckett said. “We’re going start to see those one off ways, at the very least, of how we buy cloud start to transition into more of those enterprise models. But there will always be kind of the outliers. What we’re super mindful of in the Army is, we’re probably delivering an 80% solution, there’s probably that 20% of nuance. But we want essentially all of those initiatives to come collaborate for us to understand where we can reuse enterprise services. So we can avoid rework, avoid wasting people’s time and avoid wasting money. But most importantly, we can avoid the delay in capability getting to our soldiers.”

By using cArmy, Puckett highlighted one effort that cut the lead time from 9-to-12 months to, in some instances, as little as two weeks.

JWCC modeled after Army

Puckett said the Army is using the cloud platform for enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and has avoided spending about $8 million from adopting the enterprisewide cloud services.

“That was kind of customer number one in the partnership that we established with the Army analytics group in providing cArmy as an ecosystem. We’re similar speed and adoption,” he said. “For instance, our ability to support Project Convergence 21 was leveraging a relationship that we had with the 82nd Airborne, as well as their ability to leverage cArmy’s Azure on the secret side and being able to actually employ Azure stack capabilities at the edge, collecting data and learning from Project Convergence 21, and then being able to share that data back. They wouldn’t have had the ability to essentially fold into the already accredited ecosystem. They would have to start from scratch and create an authority to operate (ATO) package for the things that they wanted to test.”

Puckett said he hopes that once JWCC is in place, the Army and all of the military services and defense agencies will shift its approach to cloud that will benefit not only DoD, but the entire technology community.

“I’m very proud to say that we have the lowest rates across unclassified secret cloud infrastructure today with CAMO, but I hope JWCC knocks that out of the park. But we still need to be able to deliver our mission capabilities. If it takes us longer and cost us more money to leverage JWCC we’re going [to] push back pretty hard because that’s going to be an implication for our mission as well as our budget,” he said. “I know that DISA has the same goal for JWCC. Those are some of the things that that we’re looking at, and that we’re paying attention to. We’ve been working very closely with that DISA team really from day one, and providing the lessons learned of what’s worked within CAMO and cArmy, and how we lead acquisitions. We want to ensure that they’re as successful as possible.”

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