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DISA to offer on-demand computing environment in 2009

In the beginning of 2009, the IT arm of the military will offer developers across the services access to on-demand computing resources that can be used to test the security and compatibility of new custom applications before deploying them live on agency systems, an official with the Defense Information System Agency confirmed on Friday.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The Rapid Access Computing Environment allows computer users primarily from the Defense Department to pay only for the computing resources required to develop and test their applications at a given time. When the application goes into production, the resources return to the "computing cloud," managed and supported by DISA at one of its data center locations. Agency customers access RACE through an online portal and pay $500 per month for unlimited access, a cost that can be charged to their government-issued credit cards. As the customer base grows, economies of scale will drive down that price, said Alfred Rivera, director of DISA's Center for Computing Services.

"Our challenge has always been getting solutions quickly to our customers," Rivera said. Before, military customers would purchase their own system for testing and use only about 15 percent or less of its storage capacity on average. "Not only did I have a long lead time to acquire that system, the customer only needed it for so much, and then the asset lived in the inventory [unused]. RACE drives this idea of a virtual computing environment that can be delivered to a customer in 24 hours, and that allow customers to only use what they need," he said.

DISA is developing RACE jointly with IT manufacturer Hewlett-Packard, which is providing the base hardware and a variety of automation tools and system management software and services. HP also will provide the first implementation for RACE, offering users access to the Microsoft Windows and Red Hat and Suse Linux operating environments. Vion Corp. will provide storage capacity and services under a $700 million contract originally awarded in January 2007, but held up in protest until February 2008. Sun Solaris also will be an early addition to RACE, Rivera said.

Beyond cost savings and faster delivery time, the cloud computing model offers the potential for standardization of software applications, which makes management, support and collaboration among agencies easier.

"If I can get this concept sold, I'm basically pushing a standard architecture across the department," Rivera said. "We no longer have one-off solutions that require their own resources and trained [staff]; instead, we can focus all our resources on this same base. It forces everyone to think, 'If I want to take advantage of speed and economies, I have to conform to these standard solutions.'"

That concept could extend beyond testing to production, he said, where agencies ultimately would outsource to DISA the management and support of live applications and computing processes.

"We're excited," said Rivera. "We think this is the next generation of computing that uses a robust architecture, pushes low utilization and focuses on using platforms more efficiently."

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