Navy discovers a cache of IT savings in the cloud

2014 GCN AWARDS

Navy discovers a cache of IT savings in the cloud

The Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Command wanted its IT systems to have the advantages of commercial cloud computing. The key benefit it sought was to save costs by moving “low-impact” information systems – including websites, small networks and data centers – to the cloud.

Project at a glance

Project: Leveraging Commercial Cloud Computing Services

Office: Space and Naval Warfare System Command (SPAWAR), Commercial Service Integration Team

Technology used: Commercial infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering

Time To Implementation: Three years

Before:The Navy ran public-facing websites in its own facilities, incurring hardware costs in the process.

After: After creating a secure cloud environment, the Navy was able move to migrate low-impact information systems to the more cost-effective commercial cloud.

But first it had to confront a major hurdle: achieve military-grade security in a commercial setting. The Command  embarked on a three-year project to do just that.

Collaborating with the Defense Department, civilian and intelligence communities, SPAWAR was able to clear the necessary approvals, certifications and accreditations to develop security best practices for infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

“Addressing the gaps that prevented DOD from using commercial cloud services was non-trivial effort,” said Tommy Groves, SPAWAR Systems Center Atlantic spokesman. “Looking at policy, process, protocols, architecture and acquisition through this lens really represented a fundamental shift in how we think about operational IT.”

In 2013, the first Secretary of the Navy portal hosted in a commercial cloud became operational, with Amazon Web Services (AWS) serving as the hosting provider. At the time, the Department of the Navy described the project as foundational.

“This effort established a valuable baseline and a ‘way ahead’ for the DON to achieve efficiencies using commercial services for a more cost-effective approach,” according to the CIO’s office

The Navy’s goal was to host systems at a lower cost than could be achieved in a government owned and operated facility. Any opportunity to reduce cost has become critical at a time when the Navy has been directed to drastically shrink its IT budget.

The ability to run websites in the commercial cloud has helped the Navy trim its capital investments in hardware, in effect, turning fixed data center costs into variable ones, according to AWS.

The savings have continued, even after the initial cloud migration. For example, AWS’ move from M1 to M3 instances, and its associated cost reductions, has lowered the price of storage from about 9 cents per GB per month to 3.3 cents per GB per month, AWS noted.

The SPAWAR team also helped establish the security groundwork for transitioning military IT systems to the cloud.

“There are special complexities in defining and developing security best practices in the DOD space – based on industry standards – for an IaaS, which include efforts to coordinate and align the various policies and guidance which currently exists to deliver a practical and cost effective service,” Groves said.   

The SPAWAR team hasn’t been alone in the cloud endeavor. SPAWAR, Groves said, coordinated its effort across policies from a number of organizations, including the DON CIO, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the DOD Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process and the Committee on National Security Systems. With the commercial cloud policy, process and architecture in place, SPAWAR anticipates additional gains. 

“We expect that as we deploy in commercial cloud environments, we will have more standardization and an ability to better manage our enterprise,” Groves said. “Additionally, we expected that other cloud service providers ... would make themselves available once the service model was established.”

Groves said those expectations are being realized. “This will ultimately help drive additional capabilities and cost savings into the DOD enterprise,” he added.

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