Defense board issues cloud recommendations, warnings

DOD should move cautiously but decisively to adopt cloud computing and carry out data center consolidation, board advises.

A Defense Department advisory board has issued a report making recommendations for DOD’s move to cloud computing and data center consolidation, among them suggestions to strengthen governance, to coordinate strategies better across the department and to act decisively.

The Defense Business Board’s report, dated Jan. 19, was presented in a recent meeting, during which board members advised that DOD improve its cloud efforts by making the DOD CIO “a strategic partner, not back-office support provider.”

The DBB found several instances of excessive spending on the department’s IT, including overspending that stems from long acquisition cycles; the maintenance of duplicative systems, networks and infrastructure; inefficient utilization of staff and servers; and untracked purchasing.

Pursuing IT efficiencies could save DOD between 25 and 50 percent on annual expenditures, while also improving mission effectiveness and achieving return on investment even ahead of schedule, according to the DBB. But before that can happen, the department has to refine its approach, including by strengthening leadership and governance, clarifying and integrating strategies and clearing legal and policy barriers.

For example, Title 10, the portion of U.S. Code that governs the military, establishes redundant authorities of DOD business systems and has unclear requirements over whether services must “own” their own data, according to the DBB.

Additionally, “federal acquisition regulations are out of synch with speed of technology change and evolving mission requirements,” the report stated.

The DBB recommends thorough standardization and a four-step, “aim before fire” approach that involves normalizing, standardizing and rationalizing applications; rationalizing and consolidating data centers; rationalizing data and security; and then migrating appropriate components to the cloud.

Still, the report urges caution in DOD’s ongoing efforts.

“Consolidation and cloud initiatives are already underway but may be inconsistent with goal to optimize at DOD enterprise level…[a] sequenced approach to migration will provide transparency, build confidence and reduce risk,” the report noted.

The DBB also recommends incentivizing the transition by rewarding success and encourages the use of pilot programs, according to the report.

Overall, the DBB reports readiness across the department for the transition to cloud.

“Interviews indicate wide support across DOD for [data center consolidation and cloud]. Cost savings and efficiency benefits are widely understood; budget imperatives create [an] environment for making major changes; early DOD initiatives [are] already showing positive results,” the DBB stated.

However, the board also warned of possible bumps in the road.

“Despite stated willingness to work together, passive resistance is likely. Required cultural and job changes will pose significant challenges; requests for exceptions will proliferate,” the report noted, adding that their survey found concerns about potential interruptions to mission capability and the migration process.

The DBB also urged definitive action, warning of dire consequences.

“Failure to act decisively is a decision, and the wrong one,” the board said. “DOD initiatives are already underway; independent and uncoordinated actions will increase barriers to coordination and information sharing. Costs will skyrocket and service levels will decrease given need to maintain legacy systems; future rationalization will be harder and more expensive. Security will fall further behind, leaving entire IT network increasingly vulnerable.”

For its report, the DBB did a comprehensive study that surveyed a huge range of defense IT, including:

  • 772+ data centers
  • 6,000+ locations; 15,000+ networks
  • 70,000+ servers; 3 million+ networked users
  • 7 million+ IT devices
  • 5,000+ applications
  • Approximately 90,000 full-time employees

The board interviewed numerous stakeholders in both the public and private sectors, including CIOs from the four services, the Defense Intelligence and Defense Logistics agencies, the Homeland Security Department, the DOD and federal CIOs, and top officials from DOD, DISA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Private sector companies that were consulted include Amazon, Chevron, Citigroup, Forrester Research, Gartner Group and IBM, among others.