DISA’s milCloud replacement is open for business

Sharon Woods, the director of Hosting and Compute Center at DISA, said her office if building more modern cloud capabilities including a containters-as-a-servic...

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When the Defense Information Systems Agency decided to end its milCloud offering, it didn’t mean the end of on-premise cloud options for its Defense customers.

DISA is replacing that long-time, possibly underutilized offering with something new called Stratus.

Sharon Woods, the director of Hosting and Compute Center at DISA, said Stratus is taking the best of milCloud and improving it to help military services and defense agencies meet their ever-changing IT modernization needs.

Sharon Woods is the director of the Hosting and Compute Center at DISA.

“It’s its own offering in its entirety. The idea with any kind of on-premise cloud capabilities that you want it to mirror commercial cloud as much as you can. You want it to be elastic. You want it to be automated. You want it to be self-service, and self-provisioning. I think the self-service component gives control to mission owners so that they can go in there and very quickly spin something up and spin something down. Everyone associates that with commercial cloud,” Woods said on Ask the CIO. “The idea with an on-premise cloud is to replicate those characteristics as much as you possibly can, except that the servers are in our data centers because some applications are not ready to operate in commercial cloud. Stratus is this nice in-between step where they can get their applications and workloads more virtualized and operating in a way that can actually consume and use that technology where it’s not so tied to the hardware, which often is what happens now that this application only works if you have this very specific piece of hardware.”

DISA decided to end the milCloud initiative in December after Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner, the director, decided it no longer made financial or operational sense. Users of milCloud 2.0 and 1.0 must move off of the platform by May.

DISA awarded a contract to CSRA in June 2017 to develop and run the commercial cloud offering. GDIT bought CSRA in April 2018 for $9.7 billion.

The milCloud 2.0 contract included a three-year base with five one-year options, and it was worth as much as $498 million. This June would have been the third option period for the program.

Best value for hybrid cloud

Woods said Stratus will help DISA customers improve how they manage data, particularly around the cost of moving data between on-premise and commercial clouds.

“Stratus lets you say, ‘OK, this is the dedicated hardware for you, you’re going to put your data here so that you know how much it costs and then you will do your transactions accordingly.’ There’s a number of use cases or Stratus makes a lot of sense. As mission owners get smarter and smarter and smarter about working in commercial cloud,” she said. “We’re focused on delivering of best value capability. It needs to make sense in terms of how the requirements are met. It needs to make sense in terms of the price. And if it doesn’t, then it needs to be sunset, and Stratus is no exception. We’ll certainly be managing it and watching it closely. But I do think a hybrid cloud capability is a requirement that exists now and will for a while. And so we have to deliver something and right now Stratus is the capability that we think is best value.”

Stratus is already operational, received its authority to operate (ATO) at the unclassified, classified and secret levels and is open for use by DoD customers.

Woods said DISA is making Stratus as self-service as users want it to be, meaning they can ask for help or just send money and take care of standing up a virtual machine instance on their own.

As for milCloud, Woods said all users must be out of the platform by May 20.

“We are involved with every single mission partner that is in the milCloud 2 environment to help them get to whatever target environment they want to get to. It’s all about being an honest broker. We did not push them to go in any particular place. I’d love to see them go to Stratus, but some folks were ready to go to commercial cloud. And we absolutely had a number of mission partners go to commercial cloud or they are going to commercial cloud instead of Stratus,” she said. “Anything and everything that mission partners need to get out of the environment, we are there a phone call away. We’re trying to be really aggressive about making sure we’re are providing the support and not just hanging back and waiting to see if there’s a problem.”

Two other cloud services

While Stratus is their latest initiative, the HACC also has been pursuing several other cloud-related efforts, including infrastructure-as-code and containers-as-a-service offerings.

Woods said these and other pilots are part of how the HACC is creating hybrid capabilities that helps customers modernize applications and take advantage of commercial-like technologies.

In DISA’s strategic plan released in December, the HACC received 10 lines of effort across the five broad lines of effort. The HACC released its own action plan to meet those goals.

Woods said few of their goals focus on automation to enable and accelerator the use of cloud services, whether on-premise or in the commercial sector.

The containers-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-code are two examples of how the HACC is doing that.

Woods called the containers-as-a-service a “bellwether” for their entire cloud strategy.

“I’m extremely excited about and I’m really proud of the team because one of my mantras is that we need these microsuccesses where you’re delivering minimum viable products from ideation to the delivery of an initial prototype in six months or less. That’s not necessarily something that people are used to seeing within the federal government,” she said. “But that’s what the HACC is going to be doing. Containers-as-a-service is an example where that is, in fact, what happened. The premise, and why I say it’s a bellwether for the HACC strategy, is that it’s taking Kubernetes, OpenShift in particular, and rather than deploying it in the cloud, it’s deploying it in the traditional data centers.”

DISA’s offering Infrastructure-as-code

She said DISA customers are deploying web servers as part of the pilot using virtual machines that come secure and ready to be used.

“By using a web server that’s containerized, we can take the container and can make sure that it’s configured as well as it can be. That becomes the thing that you deploy, and if a mission partner has a presence in the cloud as well, you’ve created a situation where now the technologies are standard and they’re able to communicate across each other from data center to commercial cloud,” she said. “We’ve given them a capability that gives them a really awesome jumpstart to integrate with commercial cloud services. That started in November as an idea and we’ve already delivered a prototype. We’re working right now to implement it with our first customer.”

The infrastructure-as-code effort is a bit further ahead from an operational standpoint.

The Army Corps of Engineers already tested it out with the HACC developing an application in a few hours instead of something that may have taken as much as 38 weeks to do previously.

“It was automated. It was validated. You start removing some that human error component as well, which just improves security and improves speed to mission and all these things,” Woods said. “That’s what infrastructures code is, these automated pre-configured cloud environments with privileged identity and continuous monitoring security policies around it. We have well over a dozen customers so it is one of the success stories because we took it from ideation to delivery in less than six months. We’ve had well over a dozen different customers consume it both in a research capacity as well as production.”

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