Defense Official: Cloud Adoption Would Look Very Different Without DISA

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Cloud adoption throughout the Defense Department would be far more decentralized without DISA, according to the agency’s cloud chief.

In a world without the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Defense Department’s efforts to move to the cloud would have been far more decentralized, likely to the detriment of some Defense agencies, according to DISA’s chief of cloud operations.

DISA—established in 1960 as the Defense Communications Agency and later renamed in 1991—would be one of seven Defense support services mothballed under legislation sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas. Under the Comprehensive Pentagon Bureaucracy Reform and Reduction Act, DISA’s IT and procurement role would be reorganized under other offices.

The agency’s current mission is to outfit the warfighter with the best technology available, from in-theater communications to cloud infrastructure support at home. Under the cloud portfolio, DISA offers support and storage services and acts as the central broker for MilCloud and other efforts.

John Hale, DISA chief of enterprise architecture, declined to speculate on what would happen to the department’s cloud initiatives if the Thornberry bill passes. However, he did tell Nextgov what he believes the Defense cloud landscape would look like if DISA had never been created.

“If DISA didn’t exist, then it would require each individual service, agency and [combatant command] to do it on their own,” Hale told Nextgov after an event Wednesday hosted by FCW.

If the process were decentralized, there is a chance that one Defense office would have shown maturity in this area and taken the lead, helping other components in the shift to cloud. Hale was not confident in that approach.

“Tradition has shown that’s not the way the department works,” he said. “History shows that when we’ve tried to decentralize enterprise services in the past—take voice collaboration as one of those things—we experimented with one particular service, agency or COCOM standing up and saying, ‘I’ll do that.’ In the end, they worry about themselves, and the other services, agencies’ and COCOMs’ requirements fall by the wayside.”

Hale did not comment on what the future holds or whether eliminating DISA would necessarily lead to a more scattershot approach to cloud adoption. However, he does not believe a decentralized approach is the best way to integrate cloud in the Defense Department.

“History has shown that the department struggles with that kind of decentralized model,” he said.