DoD Cloud Exchange: DISA’s Sharon Woods on ‘technicians of the future’

The Defense Information Systems Agency’s Hosting and Compute Center is prioritizing a cross-functional workforce as it looks to get the most out of a hybrid e...

The Defense Information Systems Agency’s new Hosting and Compute Center increasingly relies on cross-functional teams to manage a hybrid environment of commercial clouds, on-premises clouds and data centers that make up the Defense Department’s evolving IT landscape.

The HaCC, pronounced “hack,” is a relatively new organization resulting from DISA’s reorganization last year. The goal is to become the “provider of choice” for DoD organizations, said Sharon Woods, director of the center, at Federal News Network’s second annual DoD Cloud Exchange.

“You’ll hear the word ‘unified’ a lot,” Woods said. “But that’s really what we’re looking to do because we don’t want these things operating in a silo. Part of being the provider of choice is: How do we orchestrate these things in a way so that behavior is more hybrid and able to provide customers with optionality?”

The center is in charge of overseeing DoD’s new marquee cloud procurement, the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability. DISA has issued solicitations to Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft and Oracle for the JWCC work.

Through JWCC, Defense aims to meet mission needs for infrastructure, platform and software as a service offerings — beyond just unclassified requirements.

“So all classification levels, out to the tactical edge where unit operators may be completely disconnected from any kind of communication pathway, just completely isolated,” Woods said. “But there is a persistent need to collect data, do things with that data, and then hopefully, at some point, they reconnect.”

Woods said DISA and DoD are in the process of evaluating proposals from the four cloud vendors.

DISA looks to rationalize on-premises compute services

Beyond the high-profile JWCC procurement, Woods said the center is also focused on modernizing traditional data centers and optimizing on-premises cloud offerings as well.

In the past, Woods said DISA’s personnel may have worked independently depending on whether their competency was in data centers, commercial cloud or otherwise. But she said a big focus for the center today is using cross-functional teams that bring together different disciplines to work on the same problem.

The approach proved instrumental in one of the center’s initial pilot projects to offer container-as-a-service technology using open-source Kubernetes. The service gives DISA customers with a significant data center presence the ability to automate the deployment, scaling and management of modern, containerized applications.

DISA is piloting the container-as-a-service offering with its first customer, Woods said.

“Container-as-a-service is a really good example of where we had a cadre of data center personnel, but then we pulled some of our commercial cloud subject matter experts and injected them into the team as consultants,” Woods said. “But the idea is, don’t let hierarchy get in the way of a modern, unified workforce. From the highest levels, right at the Senior Executive Service level down, we need to be encouraging and giving opportunities for cross-functional teams.”

The HaCC is also identifying “senior training champions” within its workforce who, regardless of their grade and rank, can work with colleagues to identify training needs and resources to help develop a more hybrid workforce with multiple skills across hosting and compute competencies.

“We call that the ‘technician of the future,’” Woods said. “I’m not looking for one or the other. I’m looking for people that maybe their expertise isn’t equal across all the platforms, but it’s not completely alien to them. And so training is really important. That gives people an opportunity to work closer and closer together. So just like the technology is kind of a spectrum and hybrid, where the HaCC is really working hard — and it’s part of our strategic goals and the action plan — is to do the same thing with the workforce.”

DISA plans replacement for milCloud 2.0

DISA is also allowing the milCloud 2.0 contract to expire this year, meaning Defense agencies that were using the on-premises services will have to turn elsewhere. The decision was driven by DISA Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner’s zero-based review of the agency’s budget and programs.

The agency has already pulled together a new on-premises offering it’s calling “Stratus.” The capability is operational now and available on both DoD’s Nonclassified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNet) and the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), Woods said.

The new offering pulls together some of the lessons DISA has learned about on-premises cloud capabilities over the last several years, she said.

“On-prem cloud is really supposed to get near to as many capabilities and characteristics as commercial cloud,” she said. “Obviously, it’s not able to replicate. The scale is just different. It’s unavoidably different. But when you look at things like elasticity, when you look at automation, when you look at self-service and utility-based billing, these are all attributes that people expect in commercial cloud.”

The HaCC is also working on a roadmap to add additional capabilities to Stratus so it mirrors more of what’s available in pure commercial cloud services, according to Woods. The center’s priority, she said, is working with customers, like defense agencies and combatant commands, whether they’re ready to move to commercial cloud or not.

“I know I keep saying this, but a fundamental premise of agile methodology is to work with your customer, your end user, your mission partner, whatever you want to call it, but the person who needs the thing,” Wood said, “working with them so that you are prioritizing what they need and rolling that out in a way that is timely to what they need.”

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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