DISA grants IBM Level 5 cloud permission

In earning the certification at the Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in West Virginia, IBM touted itself as the first cloud provider to connect with Level 5 data on DOD's unclassified internal network.

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The Defense Information Systems Agency has granted IBM conditional authority to host unclassified, sensitive Defense Department data in the cloud. In earning the certification at the Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in West Virginia, IBM touted itself as the first cloud provider to handle Level 5 data held on DOD's unclassified internal network, known as NIPRNet.

Level 5 includes high-sensitivity data on national security systems and connects with NIPRNet through cloud access points. It is one level shy of the highest designation, which is for classified data. John Hale, DISA's chief of enterprise applications, announced forthcoming Level 5 certifications in November 2015.

"This data center at ABL will enable the agencies to have dedicated environments," CeCe DeCamp, senior client solutions executive at IBM Federal, said in an interview. "They'll be able to leverage these cloud technologies or choose hybrid solutions, which we do see...being very important to clients right now in the DOD space."

For a defense agency to connect a cloud provider handling Level 4 or 5 data to the DOD Information Network, the agency must complete application "whitelisting" requirements established by U.S. Cyber Command.

ABL "plays a critical role in our national defense, and this designation will enable our defense agencies to securely incorporate the best advanced practices in commercial cloud computing," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a statement released by IBM.

Pentagon officials have sought to expedite the department's embrace of the commercial cloud, with a goal of reaping its potential cost savings while satisfying concerns about securing DOD data.

"DOD is serving as a strong model [for cloud adoption] to other Cabinet-level agencies in the federal government," said Sam Gordy, general manager at IBM Federal, in a statement.

For Pentagon officials, putting Level 6 classified data in the commercial cloud is not as distant a prospect as it might have seemed only a year or two ago. Defense and intelligence officials are actively mulling that move, though it could be several months before such an arrangement materializes, said Rob Vietmeyer, associate director for cloud computing and agile development in the DOD CIO's office.

DeCamp said it was too early to speculate on IBM's involvement in any Level 6 project, though she said the firm would be ready to discuss the prospect with DISA if the opportunity arises. "I think we have to wait and see how quickly that will evolve," she said.

IBM's Level 5 certification was not the only significant DOD cloud news this week. The Army has called for commercial help in developing prototypes for enhanced cyber defense that would support the Army's use of "micro clouds" installed across garrison networks.

An industry day to provide more information on the initiative is set for March 31 at the Pentagon's Silicon Valley outpost, known as the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.