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U.S. Defense Dept. Information Systems CIO Opens Up On Shared IT

DISA CIO John Garing reveals much about how his team coordinates procurement, collaboration, and cloud computing within the often competing military branches.

John Garing, ic Planning
John Garing
DISA Chief Information Officer and Director, Strategic Planning

The Department of Defense's Defense Information Systems Agency has always had a tall task: get all of the often competing military branches to buy into DISA as the hub of net-centric warfare and increasingly as a provider of shared IT services to the whole DoD.

These days, it's having some success, and innovative projects like a private cloud initiative and an open source repository won't hurt things. InformationWeek recently interviewed DISA CIO John Garing about DISA's role, initiatives, and topics from procurement to collaboration to cloud computing.

InformationWeek: What do you see as DISA's role today?

Garing: We provide what I'll call the heavy-lift IT work for the Department of Defense. That's the DoD's networks with major service delivery nodes that we deliver IT and telecom, too. That's heavy-lift data processing and -- although it's a bit embryonic -- behind-the-glass magic that allows us to share information. Look at Orbitz or Amazon. When you and I interact with Orbitz, there's a lot of glue that allows them to broker deals with airlines and hotels, and it's all transparent to you and me. That glue, based largely on a service-oriented architecture, is what we're moving toward.

This is going to be our cloud. It's going to provide common services so the military departments don't have to do them for themselves, so they can concentrate their hard work and investment dollars on the things that make their branches go. With the Army, for example, that's the technology for the combat teams in the tactical world. People throughout the Department of Defense will connect to this cloud and be able to consume services, just like you and I do as customers of Amazon or Orbitz.

It is a different set of processes and techniques to command and maneuver a brigade combat team that the Army owns, a Marine amphibious unit, an Air Force fighter squadron, and submarines that have nuclear weapons on them. However, the command and control systems have to be able to share information, because it's most often a joint deployment of U.S. forces for humanitarian relief, fighting a war, or anti-piracy. We provide the framework. It's been pretty much hard-wired, but command and control of the future uses browser-based Web services that ride on this enterprise infrastructure.

InformationWeek: What's your relationship like with the CIOs of the other branches?

Garing: The military services are independently funded and chartered by the Congress. There are some things in the Department that are joint, but we do not do the local bases, so whatever we do has to be in collaboration with military service CIOs. That group sets the tone for how we go after the enterprise infrastructure and the information sharing, and they are our customers.

Three-quarters of DISA's budget comes from our customers. Now you're talking about the exchange of money, which I think strengthens the partnership, and makes this evolution toward the enterprise infrastructure and doing things in the cloud more readily achievable than if we didn't have a business relationship.

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