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New Cloud Strategies Take Hold for DOD and Beyond

Leaders at DOD and NASA are accelerating their cloud journeys by adopting a strategic, ‘cloud smart’ approach.

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The Defense Department and NASA are rethinking how they approach cloud by adopting a more strategic approach to better understand applications, data and platforms to successfully enable the agencies’ core missions.

“As we endeavored upon this [cloud] journey, we quickly realized that the first thing that we need to do is just be cloud smart. Instead of saying cloud first, we really need to understand our inventory and our landscape, and that takes time,” DOD Deputy CIO for Information Enterprise Danielle Metz said during a featured fireside chat at GovernmentCIO Media & Research’s Cloud Summit.

Its cloud smart approach meant identifying the types of applications and where they reside, creating a strategy to reengineer these applications to make them cloud-enabled, moving to a targeted cloud environment, or investing in native cloud applications.

By following this formula, Metz noted that DOD can make more strategic decisions on implementation. It’s a similar approach NASA is taking.

“Getting the right platform and foundation in place has really been key for us. If you don’t have that right enterprise platform approach, you end up with a lot of sprawl with varying degrees of technical debt,” said NASA Cloud Computing Program Manager Joe Foster in a subsequent panel at the event. “Getting that platform in place … has really accelerated NASA’s [cloud] adoption.”

Once the core platform is in place, Foster said agencies can address higher level needs. To create this foundation, Daniel LaMarco, senior solutions architect at Infor, said organizations should outline a reference architecture from applications, data stores, data warehouses and data lakes to understand capabilities and better prepare for the transition to cloud.

“The platform approach really has to lessen the work that is required, improve the value of organizations in terms of integration, ease of use, analytics, artificial intelligence … all combined into a single platform,” LaMarco said. “You have to start from a value proposition, then say, ‘What does this mean for my organization, and what are my pain points?’”

After DOD canceled its single-source Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract in July 2021, the department has been rethinking its approach to cloud modernization and acquisition with the introduction of the multiple award Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC) contract.

This came amid a pivot from DOD’s 2018 cloud strategy to a broader software modernization strategy, which outlines how the department will transform people, processes and technologies to ultimately enable DOD to refine its business processes, cultivate its workforce and leverage technology. As part of its pivot, Metz noted that DOD will be better positioned to create a cloud marketplace.

“When we conceived of JEDI, we had an urgent unmet need in terms of having enterprise scale infrastructure from unclassified all the way up to top secret to include for our warfighters the tactical edge,” Metz said. “That did not happen … Instead, we decided to move forward with a multi-cloud, multi-vendor acquisition.”

DOD recently concluded its market research and is currently building out the acquisition packages to do direct solicitations to cloud service providers that meet the department’s requirements and plans for the solicitations to take place at the end of October 2021.

“This is an aggressive campaign that we have done in order to realize that strategic shift in July. Most times, something similar to this would’ve taken 10 months for market research to occur and to have done the acquisition. The team did it in 60 days,” Metz said.

With cloud environments, the capability to share data and unlock new applications grows exponentially. At NASA, Foster said the agency’s Aeronautics Missions Directorate is investing in artificial intelligence and machine learning to support its Advanced Air Mobility Campaign for the aviation industry.

“What they’re trying to do is to have an automated system to help navigate drone traffic in and around urban areas,” Foster said. “It boils down to the data quality — getting the data available and the platforms to run your analytics and algorithms on it.”

To support data usability, LaMarco sees potential for digital threads and digital twins to improve data quality and develop a “metadata strategy.” By creating this type of strategy, organizations will better understand how to develop a platform that can ingest, transform and discover metadata across siloed applications.

“That is one of the strengths of the cloud and of those kinds of solutions,” LaMarco said.

Of course, a core element to successful cloud efforts comes down to the workforce.

Earlier this year, DOD published its DOD OCONUS Cloud Strategy, a roadmap that aims to ensure a resilient network to support a distributed environment, develop mobile or regional data centers outside the continental U.S. to enable near real-time decision making, and continuously cultivate talent.

“It really has to be a symbiotic relationship in terms of ensuring that we have the right infrastructure in place, that we have the computing edge pushed to where the warfighter is, and then the third piece is ensuring that once we have all those things, that the warfighter and the people at the edge know how to use it,” Metz said.

Moving into 2022, one of NASA’s biggest priorities is deploying its “Data Acquisition Processing and Handling Network Environment” (DAPHNE) system, which shifts satellite mission data to the cloud. The agency has already deployed to system to a few ground stations and is wrapping up its initial launch. NASA will also be continuing its open science initiatives to improve data analysis.

“We’re constantly improving. I think that’s the biggest hallmark of our software modernization. You’re never done, and you shouldn’t be done. You’re always going to modernize, and you need to be able to have a platform to allow that agile modernization to take place,” Metz said.

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