DISA preps for a diverse hybrid cloud environment

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The Defense Information Systems Agency is experimenting with using commercial containers in data centers to help prepare for a multi-vendor, multi-capability cloud environment.

The Defense Information Systems Agency is planning to release a "container as a service" product in the coming months that will help synchronize the Defense Department's many cloud environments. 

Sharon Woods, the director of DISA's Hosting and Compute Center, said the project aims to make data centers central to the Defense Department's hybrid cloud environment by using commercial containers.

Woods, who spoke during a virtual event hosted by AFCEA's Washington, D.C. chapter Jan. 20, said the hybrid approach sometimes "raises an eyebrow" but that there were a lot of benefits to a container-based approach. 

"A server is a server is a server. So it is possible to do that on [premises]. And where that becomes super powerful is when you have an on-prem container in the data centers, you have containers in the cloud. And now the nexus between the two is substantially easier and more standardized than it would have been previously," Woods said.

Woods also said the container-as-a-service shift setup, which includes data center personnel and those who came from the legacy Cloud Computing Program Office, could help develop new skill sets for the existing workforce. A minimum viable product of the service is expected this year.

"One of our concepts is to take on both sides – both people that understand how to administer environments in the cloud, as well as people that understand how to administer environments in a traditional data center – and create some overlap of experience and skill sets so that you really have a more organic cross functional workforce," Woods said. 

The approach not only builds new skills for existing workers, which could help with retention but it also makes the agency more adaptable to changing mission needs, like with the rapid troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

"There was pressure on technology across the board to operate in a way that had not been planned. And if we have a workforce of technicians of the future, now I'm not just going after a small population of people to help – I can go after the entire center to help. And I think that that is part of the integration," Woods said. 

2022 is a key year for DISA's updated strategic approach to simplify and modernize the Defense Department's IT infrastructure with more enterprise services and enhance cybersecurity. 

Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner, who is the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Network, outlined several priorities for this year, including reforming its approach to enterprise licensing, cloud, and the risk management framework.

"We have too many different problem sets, too many different licenses," Skinner said Jan. 20. "And from a Department of Defense standpoint, we're looking for best value when it comes to enterprise licenses, not 10 different best values within the same product line." 

Skinner noted that optimizing value for enterprise licenses was a crusade-like focus for this year, especially as defense cloud computing becomes more integrated. 

"We're heading to cloud, whether that's a commercial cloud, government cloud, on prem, off prem. Cloud is here, cloud is it and helping us navigate our way through the next five to 10 years from a cloud standpoint is important," Skinner said addressing industry members. 

But as DISA and DOD overall move toward more enterprise services, the need to track performance increases too. 

Llewellyn Don Means, DISA's director of the center for operations, said the risk management group is developing a performance management framework to outline for industry "ahead of time what the expectations are with capabilities that we consume from them." 

The goal is to set up automated monitoring inside the network to understand and fix problems before or as they happen so users don't have to make a call to get a resolution. 

"We have customers from the president to the foxhole to the Cube. All of them are important and enable national defense, quite frankly. But we want to make sure that again, we're ahead of it and not behind it," Means said.

Roger Greenwell, DISA's risk management executive and authorizing official, said those enterprise engineering efforts are focused on the capability to monitor, analyze, and model from end-to-end. 

"We've had cases in the past where, again, we can pick up one segment of the network, or we're able to see from this hop to this hop. But truly, what do we need to do to get after that end-to-end view and enable the folks who are working 24/7 around the world to do the mission…and get out of that people as a sensor type of thing."