DISA puts cloud computing applications into production

The Rapid Access Computing Environment is no longer a resource just for developers; Defense agencies can use the service now to quickly access tools.

The Defense Information Systems Agency has put its cloud computing service into operational use just one year after it began testing and developing computer applications.

"We've moved this from the developer community to the user community," Henry Sienkiewicz, technical program director for DISA computing services, said at press briefing today.

The agency made the new cloud computing service available on Monday on unclassified Defense networks, but Sienkiewicz said DISA soon will offer the service on its secret network. Earlier this year, DISA began allowing users to pay only for the computing resources needed to develop and test applications before they went live.

DISA has installed Hewlett-Packard blade computer servers -- a server on a thin electronics board plugged into a networked chassis -- in one of its 13 Defense Enterprise Computing Centers but declined to identify which one. The agency rents the servers to remote users in what it calls its Rapid Access Computing Environment.

End users typically buy a fraction of a blade server in the DISA computing center to host their applications, said Wayne Farmer, RACE program manager.

If a Defense command or unit wanted to purchase a server for its own use, it could take weeks or even months to do so through the traditional acquisition process. But RACE allows end users to have a test server in operation within 24 hours and a production server running in the Internet cloud within 72 hours, Sienkiewicz said.

RACE provides Defense units with standardized computing platforms that they can quickly, inexpensively and securely set up, he said. Units can pay for the virtual computer service with either a government credit card or a military interdepartmental purchase request. Most of the time required to set up the service -- about 23 hours -- is taken up by transferring the money to different accounts to pay for the server time, Sienkiewicz said. DISA plans to charge $1,200 a month for the new service.

Unlike commercial cloud computing offerings, the RACE service comes with built-in conformance to Defense information security standards, he said. This includes software that adheres to multiple DISA security policies known as security technical implementation guidelines.

Farmer said DISA enhances RACE security by separating applications such as Web services and databases from each other. But before a server can be connected to Defense networks, the agency puts it through the Defense Information Assurance Certification and Accreditation Process, which typically takes 60 days. The high degree of standardization in RACE should cut the accreditation process to 40 days, Sienkiewicz said.

Production applications running in RACE tend to be more lightweight than Defense enterprisewide systems such as those that support finance or health, which run on DISA mainframe computers, he said. RACE applications can run under either the Red Hat Linux or Microsoft Windows operating systems.

Sienkiewicz emphasized that DISA wants to use RACE to push the development of applications to the warfighting edge and said units operating in Iraq or Afghanistan already have used the service to develop convoy control systems as well as command-and-control applications.