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Implementation of Cloud Computing Solutions in Federal Agencies: Part 4

Cloud Computing for Defense and Intelligence

(This is part 4 of the series entitled "Implementation of Cloud Computing Solutions in Federal Agencies". First published on, this series provides the content of a whitepaper I recently authored. A copy of the complete whitepaper will be available at starting September 7, 2011.)

The defense and intelligence communities are not immune to cloud computing. Arguably more than any other government agencies, their missions require a fabric of utility computing that scales on demand and enables self discovery and self-service access to secure, timely and relevant information in support of mission: individual or shared. The traditional IT model requires system engineering that binds most software to the hardware and does not provide an enterprise suite of functionality or allow for increased flexibility and a governed lifecycle of services. Designing software independence from the hardware allows an operating system, applications and data to “live” across the enterprise and is fundamental to the transformation of compute, storage and network functionality.

Defense is dealing with a $78 billion budget cut—the first since September 11, 2001—and another $100 billion in other cost-cutting measures over a five-year period commencing in FY 2012. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is directing that the budget be cut from agency administrative and structural areas (e.g., the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Network Intelligence and Information, the Business Transformation Agency, and the Joint Forces Command are in the process of being eliminated or disestablished with some essential functions transferred to other organizations with the Pentagon).

In an official statement on the proposed budget costs provided on January 6, 2011, Secretary Gates said: “First, reforming how the department uses information technology, which costs us about $37 billion a year. At this time all of our bases and headquarters have their own separate IT infrastructure and processes, which drive up costs and create cyber vulnerabilities. The department is planning to consolidate hundreds of data centers and move to a more secure enterprise system, which we estimate could save more than $1 billion a year.” Department of Defense Chief Information Officer Terry Takai also publically commented about the potential IT budget cuts at an April 21, 2011, INPUT event. Takai commented on DoD’s support of the move of some of its IT operations to the cloud—particularly data centers.

Cloud Computing and Mission Support
Information is often the decisive discriminator in modern conflict. Studies of recent mission failures highlighted this fact, finding that many of these failures were caused by:

  • Existence of data silos
  • Human-based document exploitation process
  • Reliance on “operationally proven” processes and filters typically used to address the lack of computational power or decision time

Also disturbing is that in most of these cases, the critical piece of information necessary for mission was in possession. The failure wasn’t in obtaining the information, but in locating and applying it to the mission at hand. Cloud computing uniquely addresses all of these important issues.

Data silos evolved from a system-centric IT proc urement policy and an almost reflexive reliance onrelational database technology. In developing early data processing systems, the high cost of memory and storage led to a premium being placed on the efficiency of application data access and retrieval. Relational database technology effectively addressed this need, which in turn led to its pervasive use across government. In modern IT system development, memory and storage are cheap—and getting cheaper—which has led to internet-scale storage and search paradigms that are the stuff of everyday use today. The world’s largest databases cannot, in fact, be searched quickly using a relational database management approach. Today’s ability to search multi-petabyte data stores in milliseconds virtually eliminates the need for data silos. This capability is realized in cloud-based storage. Documents are the persistent records of human activity. As such, they are used to provide insight into the societal structure and processes of our opponents. Conflict, however, is entity and event centric. The intelligence professional must, therefore, interpret documents and translate that data into operationally relevant entities and events. The time and resource intensive nature of this skillcraft is perfectly suited for the precision search and analytic capabilities of the modern compute cloud. The use of highly standardized and virtualized commodity infrastructure, not only make the automation of this function possible, but it enables real-time continuous processing of the now digital document flow of our adversaries. This commodity also removes the human from this tedious task, allowing intelligence professionals to apply higher order professional analysis and insight.

The human-based document exploitation process led directly to an institutional reliance on the aforementioned “operationally proven” processes and filters. Instantiated by the use of multi-page structure query language and the ubiquitous goal of obtaining an appropriate “working set” of data, these time-honored processes were born from the need to meet critical decision timelines within a computationally inadequate environment. Cloud techniques and technologies can now be used to work on all the data. And with an ability to leverage the power of a supercomputer at will, the working set requirement is now an anachronism and critical decision timelines can now be more easily met.

Cloud computing is unique in its ability to address these critical defense and intelligence mission needs. That’s why cloud computing is critical to our national defense. As a bonus, cloud computing offers defense and intelligence agencies the ability to increase efficiencies and incur marked cost savings during their lifecycles to alleviate some of the pressure of budget reductions. Moving IT operations to the cloud also will assist in enhanced collaboration.
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More Stories By Kevin Jackson

Kevin Jackson, founder of the GovCloud Network, is an independent technology and business consultant specializing in mission critical solutions. He has served in various senior management positions including VP & GM Cloud Services NJVC, Worldwide Sales Executive for IBM and VP Program Management Office at JP Morgan Chase. His formal education includes MSEE (Computer Engineering), MA National Security & Strategic Studies and a BS Aerospace Engineering. Jackson graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1979 and retired from the US Navy earning specialties in Space Systems Engineering, Airborne Logistics and Airborne Command and Control. He also served with the National Reconnaissance Office, Operational Support Office, providing tactical support to Navy and Marine Corps forces worldwide. Kevin is the founder and author of “Cloud Musings”, a widely followed blog that focuses on the use of cloud computing by the Federal government. He is also the editor and founder of “Government Cloud Computing” electronic magazine, published at To set up an appointment CLICK HERE

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