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What agencies can learn from the Army’s complicated move to the cloud

The journey to the cloud is one of the more complicated missions in the government modernization. Like many agencies, the Army faces issues ranging from data vulnerability to limited connectivity to lack of specialized talent.

Thomas Sasala, director of operations and architecture and chief data officer in the Army's Office of the CIO, outlined at a recent FCW cloud event five strategies the Army is using to address these challenges:

1. Establish environments. The Army uses a multi-location commercial cloud hosted system. Policy requires that cloud production and cloud development be physically separate, which means that interoperability is key to fluid data management between tactical field operatives and enterprise management in the Pentagon. “It’s important to gain flexibility and agility by merging these two infrastructures and creating interoperability, Sasala said. Using a “contractor-owned, contractor-operated” system by buying cloud as a service for both on-premises and off-premises databases is an effective way to bridge the gap between the two. “I’m not suggesting establishing one environment, but they need to be fully interoperable,” he said. 

2. Set a destination. Sasala recommended providing "a clear path for mission owners to migrate to commercial cloud computing." The Army created a team at NETCOM that acts as a gateway for cloud efforts.

3. Incentivize. “The greatest incentive comes in the form of money,” Sasala said. The Army is “paying the way” by using the $246 billion ACCENT contract to help application mission owners move to the cloud. For internally managed databases for sensitive information, the Army has also created a cloud strategy group to broker relationships with industry. "We can bring industry in and have them advise us on the strategy and tell us where we need to change it, tweak it, make differences," Sasala said. "They are going to be the buffer between us and the industry." 

4. Lower barriers. The Army will “spend a lot of time and energy in FY19 building shared services to decrease the barrier to entry,” Sasala said. Poor identity and access management “is the single limiting factor to movement to the cloud for us, for any hybrid cloud environment, or any federated cloud environment.” To solve this issue, the Army employs “multiple commercial cloud vendors that have multi-identity infrastructures that are integrated with the Army’s common access card,” he said. 

5. Set conditions. Providing “capacity and talent to rapidly assess and refactor applications for cloud is vital to maintaining an efficient process. Sasala said agencies should look for and allocate far more talent to two areas: software development and application management. “[Hackers are] not breaking into our network; they’re breaking into our applications and they’re stealing our data," he said. "So, if we don’t get serious about securing the applications and the data and stop worrying about the perimeter that doesn’t exist anymore, then we are going to continuously be had.”

About the Author

Caroline Mohan is an editorial intern for FCW and GCN. She can be reached at cmohan@1105media.com.

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