DoD Cloud Exchange: Army’s Paul Puckett on agility gains of cloud

With the Army cloud office morphing into an agency, it aims to expand the service’s ability to use common tools anywhere. We talk with ECMA Director Paul Puck...

When the Army upgraded its Enterprise Cloud Management Agency — replacing the word “office” with “agency” — it was more than a name change. It was a deliberate elevation of the unit’s duties. The change signifies the importance of cloud computing to the service’s modernization efforts and to the Army mission itself.

“The purpose of the ECMA is to accelerate the adoption of cloud computing,” ECMA Director Paul Puckett said during Federal News Network’s second annual DoD Cloud Exchange.

Until establishment of the original office, Army efforts at cloud adoption happened in “kind of spurts of activity,” Puckett added. “Typically, that was found mostly occurring program by program.” That is, not strategically.

Then, Army leadership determined that cloud “is foundational to where the Army’s trying to go, around all things within the digital age,” he said.

Now, ECMA is a field operating agency focused on delivering capabilities across the entire Army. It reports to the Army’s Office of the Chief information Officer. The organization’s objectives are less about cloud infrastructure, which in many cases come from commercial providers, and more about the supported capabilities, Puckett said.

Defining digital focus based on Army mission relevance

“You don’t hear a bunch of different things about cloud infrastructure in that vision. Because really, we see cloud as enabling that vision.” he said. The vision itself is “delivering digital overmatch through data-driven outcomes at the speed of mission relevance.”

Other objectives come from that overarching need. Puckett said first among these is reducing the time required to field new systems, which in turn stems from faster development, testing, user feedback and getting the go-ahead via the authority to operate (ATO) process.

“Think about the actual user acceptance testing, the interoperability testing. A lot of those processes are pretty cumbersome today,” Puckett said. “Essentially, we need to accelerate those processes forthwith. That is, we also need to start to design these systems to actually leverage cloud infrastructure.”

That, he said, will enable adaptability and the ability to pivot quickly as circumstances change. Cloud becomes “this forcing function for us to reimagine and redesign our systems, our services, our business processes,” he said.

Cost transparency is another objective for ECMA, Puckett said. That’s important to cloud users throughout the Army because nothing happens outside of a budget context. Consuming commercial cloud services presents a different cost model than operating an agency data center, he pointed out.

Access to the same Army technology tools in the office and field

Puckett made it clear that the cloud isn’t only for business and logistics systems. The Army intends for cloud to improve military capability too, he said. This will happen as enterprise and tactical domains become more unified on a common network using common or shared data. This notion is embedded not only in the Army’s cloud strategy but also in its unified network plan, Puckett said.

“I think that’s part of the realization when it comes to cloud infrastructures. There’s this global digital infrastructure that has to be thoughtfully designed for our ability to now respond in real time,” he said.

“Now, I can actually have the entire global Army operating some machine capability off of the exact same baseline configuration, and I’ve got the ability to adapt in real time with new capabilities and services to enhance the mission based off of data that I’ve learned. That’s absolutely critical.”

The cloud-hosted services ECMA aims to deliver will support the Army’s strategy by providing it with the digital transformation element it needs, Puckett said. The reform strategy consists of three lines of effort: modernization, readiness, and people and partnerships.

The Army has been realigning and reallocating its budget lines to support the strategy. One way that cloud services help is by reducing duplication of functions common to multiple programs, Puckett said.

“So much of what we’ve done has been program by program by program,” he said. “A lot of the commonality and reusability are the resources and time that are invested in really duplicative manners.”

By identifying data, application and process commonalities, Puckett said, and reestablishing them as enterprise services, ECMA can enhance the Army’s ability to realize its modernization goals.

The intersection of cloud acquisition and strategy

Meantime, ECMA is updating its own approach to acquiring and provisioning cloud services. The new cloud plan builds on a service called Cloud Account Management Optimization. Puckett described CAMO as “a mechanism for buying cloud infrastructure at scale.”

CAMO initially has focused on commercial services for both unclassified and secret applications hosted in the continental U.S. (CONUS). The reasoning, Puckett said, was that approach used the most mature commercial environments and gave Army teams the chance to develop their cloud buying and development skills.

“Moving forward that mission needs to start to expand,” Puckett said. “We need to start to essentially bring private clouds in an OCONUS manner.” The goal is to bring the security and reliability of CONUS to offshore operations and missions.

In the 2022 revision to the cloud strategy, ECMA will “nest” cloud services within the Army’s digital transformation efforts, Puckett said. As Army capabilities become more software-driven, more digital, the Army will increasingly rely on common virtualized services it can configure and deploy locally.

“You’re going to see those common services and that architecture start to expand globally,” he said. “You’re going to start to see a focus on more software-defined ecosystems as we move away from this physical scaffolding of the DoD enterprise network.”

The Army will become less reliant on U.S. network services too, Puckett said. It will add use of regional-specific services available via satellite and on a third tier through which field operators in austere environments load cloud capabilities onto disconnected servers.

To listen to and watch all the sessions from the 2022 Federal News Network DoD Cloud Exchange, go to the event page.

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