DISA moves data closer to the front lines

Alfred Rivera, director of DISA's computing services, discusses the Rapid Access Computing Environment, cloud computing and data center consolidation -- and how those efforts deliver content to the battlefield.

Two years ago, the Defense Information Systems Agency launched a private cloud computing infrastructure, named the Rapid Access Computing Environment. Initially, RACE provided Defense Department users with a test and development environment for software. Now DOD users can set up their own operating environments in the secure Defense Enterprise Computing Center’s production environment. Editor-at-Large Wyatt Kash recently spoke to Alfred Rivera, director of computing services at DISA, about recent developments, such as a partnership with Apps for the Army, data center consolidation and the delivery of content to warfighters.

GCN: As you started dealing with more projects such as Apps for the Army, what was it that you had to do to increase software and other applications on RACE to be able to accommodate those new applications?

Rivera: As you know, RACE is actually defined as an infrastructure as a service, so we provide an underlying infrastructure in a virtual-machine environment with the operating system and some development capability. With the partnership with the Army, they asked for additional capabilities so that they can have a development environment particular to user-type solution sets like BlackBerry, like Android, and [Microsoft] Windows CE environments.

Related stories:

DISA ramps up cloud computing platform

DISA to further integrate enterprise infrastructure, services

And so what we did was partner with them. They had that capability in terms of a development environment already packaged, and what we did is partner and bring it together as part of our RACE infrastructure, so that was one piece of the partnership. The second piece was structuring end-user presentations that allow them to actually go select and choose what kind of particular development environment they wanted to run under RACE. So we did some modifications to allow those defined users at the Army to come in and pick the development environments, so that in turn would allow them to do these specific types of capabilities for whatever development environment they wanted.

GCN: We have been hearing about the challenges of moving information from one cloud to another. How do you ensure total ownership of that data, and how do you guarantee that you have full control of that data? One of the issues that has come up is the idea of encrypting the data. Can you talk about how you guarantee that the data is fully protected as it moves from one place to another?

Rivera: With respect to RACE, RACE is completely integrated into a secure network environment underneath the Department of Defense. So in fact, we actually do not encrypt at the virtual-machine level because we already have it in a private cloud infrastructure. All the security and the controls that come with operating in an enterprise computing environment are embedded into that cloud computing solution because it is a private cloud.

GCN: Looking forward, can you talk about the investment you have made in infrastructure as a service and how you layer on top of that, the things that you need to do so that you own the work without needing to worry about long-term contracts, and other issues with the infrastructure that’s now in place?

Rivera: Sure. Probably the biggest things that we are looking at right now is how do we ensure that, as we define additional capability that’s going to be provided to the warfighter for development as well for production, we have the flexibility to tune the funding of the application that allows us to add that capability and that functionality. So that’s one piece of the infrastructure that we are actually remodifying within the infrastructure.

The second piece is, as we think about what additional capabilities and offerings we wanted to provide the warfighter, we are seeing how that adds into the service. If we are going to add [Microsoft] SharePoint as a service offering, how does that get embedded into the infrastructure? So those kinds of things are some of the software components that we are looking at.

From a technical perspective, we are also looking at and building — as part of the infrastructure of the service — the dynamic orchestration piece of this. Currently, it’s a static virtual machine with specific memory and storage assigned to a virtual machine. But as a customer demands more memory and storage as the application grows in terms of capability underneath that, we are building the dynamic orchestration piece that’s going to be underlying, so that additional functionality can be added in an automated fashion as opposed to behind the scenes with manual intervention.

GCN: There is a lot of effort to reduce the number of data centers in government. From your perspective, how are you approaching this effort to consolidate data centers, and what have you learned from RACE or through virtualization and other techniques that is helping to speed that process?

Rivera: From a DISA perspective, we have been doing data consolidation for the past 20 years. We look at data centers simply as ways or an opportunity, based on technology and capabilities, where data centers can be further reduced or enhanced. So as footprints become short, smaller in the technologies, and the use of automated remote management techniques [increases], we will continue to look at what makes sense. We’re not denying the fact that if there is still a requirement to put a data center in a geolocation that supports a warfighter requirement, we will continue to look at that. So we are always on the path, looking at how to reduce data centers where it makes sense and where it doesn’t make sense.

GCN: With Army Lt. Gen Carroll Pollett as DISA director for about a year now, how do you see his campaign unfolding, and what are you doing differently in the year ahead compared to where you were a year ago under his leadership?

Rivera: There are a couple of positive things that have happened under his leadership that have been a big success. Obviously, the general is very warfighter-focused, so we have turned the data center around in terms of it doesn’t have to be within a specific set of glass houses, but [we are] in fact using technologies like the Global Information Grid Content Delivery Service, which is a content delivery capability, and managing nodes that are outside that glass house and closer to the warfighter. So I am putting data and capability or content closer to the edge, but [they are] managed all the way back here in the data center.

Putting those content delivery nodes geographically worldwide, where the warfighter needs quick access to data, as well as reducing the need for additional bandwidth has been one of the biggest successes under his leadership that we have put in place. The second thing is I think in the last year and a half we have actually been — from a data center perspective — looking at where it make sense to actually put a data center. Over a year and half ago, we actually put in a Theater Enterprise Computing Center in Bahrain to support local processing that just won’t make sense to bring it all the way back here to [the Continental United States Field Command], but it was a small data center that allowed us to put that capability in place.