America’s defence department moves towards cloud computing

We are all aware of the United States military, and that it is the largest in the world. It has a budget of over £340 billion and employs in excess of 3 million people. 1.5 million of those people are in active duty, or regular military personnel.

Of course, such a large organisation will have a monumental IT infrastructure as well as some of the tightest data security on the planet. Such an infrastructure also brings with it an inevitable large hardware stack.

Currently, the Department of Defence has some 1500 data centres which it is planning on reducing substantially.

A combination of budget cuts and security concerns has meant that the substitute for hardware has come in the form of Cloud Computing – high security Managed Servers, Cloud Hosting services and so on.

The DoD is moving towards cloud computing, using it to collect data as well as the possibility of using SaaS via remote servers.

Of course these services do not eliminate risk completely, however the DoD is working on creating some of the tightest security ever known in the cloud, right from infrastructure to individual data. This could be achieved via continuous system monitoring and cryptology. The emphasis will be on the security of individual data – sensitive documents, military research etc.

Security is the biggest factor in the whole affair. Everyone is agreed that the homologation of services and information would cut costs and benefit the DoD immensely, however if the security isn’t up to scratch, the implementation of cloud computing is rendered obsolete.

The intelligence services already use the cloud to secure sensitive information however, so doing this for the DoD should be feasible.

The intelligence services do differ from the DoD however in several ways. They don’t have to accommodate for the security of data coming from a multitude of sometimes unknown sources.

This leaves the DoD with slightly more complex security requirements, however this should not hinder progress. One of the main challenges will be upgrading from existing and archaic data structures to the cloud.

Robert Carey, the DoD’s Deputy CIO said: “We’re moving at a very deliberate pace. We have lots of pilot programs going on to evaluate these kinds of things and to make sure we understand both the pros, cons and risks of moving into the cloud space.”

He also noted that another big challenge would be the “cultural shift” from “avoiding risk entirely” towards a more sensible “risk management” strategy. Moving into the cloud has risks, and it important that the IT Acquisition Corps at the DoD understand this but don’t let it hinder progress.

Carey acknowledges that the cloud and the measurement of cloud security was “at best, nebulous”, and therefore that implementing it via an effective risk management strategy would also be a significant challenge for the teams involved.

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