DISA ‘going commercial’ in forthcoming update to MilCloud

Pentagon officials fully acknowledged that they’ve been relatively sluggish adopters of cloud computing, but have continued to maintain that there will always be some applications that are so sensitive that they will never be appropriate for transition to commercial hosting and must stay within the military’s networks.

Thus far, that has mostly has meant MilCloud, the private offering that’s both operated and secured by the Defense Information Systems Agency. But a new 2.0 version is in the works, and DISA is looking for ways to get more commercial players into the game while maintaining its (probably justifiable) security paranoia.

“In the next version of MilCloud, we will be going commercial,” Tony Montemarano, DISA’s top civilian official and acquisition boss said.  “Where that sits, etcetera is still a question, but we’re about to start our acquisition strategy for a MilCloud 2 … cloud is coming into our vernacular, and coexistence with industry is what we’re trying to come to grips with.”

(Shameless plug: Julie Mintz, DISA’s Cloud Service branch chief is one of three DISA guests who will join Federal News Radio for an hour-long radio interview and online listener chat on Sept. 25. The future of MilCloud will be among the primary topics. Watch our homepage for registration details.)

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DISA has been under pressure from DoD chief information officer Terry Halvorsen not only to make more use of commercial cloud vendors but also to reduce the rates it charges other Defense components. The agency is already formulating plans to transition its in-house Enterprise Email offering to a commercially-provided service, and already cut its pricing for MilCloud by 10 percent in 2014.

Rate cuts have been mandated more broadly for the rest of the agency’s services for the next several years, said David Bennett, the director of the agency’s implementation and sustainment center.

“In 2015, I had to take a 10 percent reduction in my rates for computing. In 2016, it’s 10 percent. In 2017, it’s 10 percent more,” he said. “My rates are constantly being forced downward, so how can I continue to evolve capability and provide the level of service my customers are expecting and do that faster and cheaper? The only way we’re going to get there is to eliminate all the slop we have out there in terms of redundant capability and devices and automate as much as possible so that we don’t end up spending more and more dollars and people.”

The bottom line seems to be that DISA is heeding Halvorsen’s previous admonitions to make sure DoD’s IT shop only develops solutions that are Defense-unique. Since IT dollars are much scarcer than a decade ago, the agency would prefer buy services — after ensuring they’re secure — than building them itself.

That’s the case with the forthcoming replacement for Enterprise Email, which has already subsumed the email accounts of 1.6 million users in the Army, the Air Force, Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and several other Defense entities, Bennett said.

“One of the things we’re trying to do as part of defining the requirements is to make sure we don’t get into requirements creep, where we’re not just providing email, but the kitchen sink and an outdoor bathroom and all of the unique requirements that people think they need,” he said. “As you start to deliver an enterprise solution, that’s always the issue. Everybody’s trying to throw in buzzwords like unified capabilities, and everyone has their own definition of what that is. So we’re spending a lot of time — but not an inordinate amount of time — getting to the brass tacks of what we hope will be a very simplistic, base-level email capability that we can rapidly get on contract and out there in the field. And we want to come at this that from a different perspective than we have before. We really don’t want to develop it, we want to take it as a service offering from somebody, including to the point of discussing whether it’s hosted in a commercial cloud. But our intention is to get out of the position of being the developer and acquire it as a service from industry. We need industry to tell us where and how to do that most effectively and at the lowest cost.”

This post is part of Jared Serbu’s Inside the DoD Reporter’s Notebook feature. Read more from this edition of Jared’s Notebook.

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