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7/29/2010
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Defense Agency Expands Cloud Computing

Platform-as-a-service, Microsoft Office, and SharePoint may be delivered to military agencies from the Defense Information Systems Agency's private cloud.

The Defense Information Systems Agency, an agency that's already among the government leaders in cloud computing, is considering offering platform-as-a-service to other military agencies to complement the infrastructure-as-a-service that it already offers via its Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE) private cloud.

Today, the PaaS offering is an early-stage pilot designed to meet a request from the Air Force, but a broader pilot is forthcoming. "The Air Force came to us and said, we not only want you to manage the infrastructure, but also the middleware," Alfred Rivera, DISA's director of computing services, said in a speech Wednesday at DISA's Customer and Industry Forum in Washington, D.C.

As part of the PaaS offering, DISA would not just provide the servers themselves, but also the operating system stack and all support services below the application layer, including patching and managing the IT infrastructure.

More broadly, this new PaaS pilot is only one of several cloud computing and shared service projects DISA has in the works. There's also a planned Microsoft SharePoint 2010 deployment, virtualized web-based versions of Microsoft Office apps hosted in DISA's cloud, and a number of other services on the way. For example, Rivera said that DISA is also considering ways that it could potentially manage applications that don't even necessarily reside in DISA data centers -- IT service management as a service, he called it.

DISA's VOffice pilot, disclosed earlier this summer, is now up to 1,000 users who have access to web-based versions of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote hosted in DISA's cloud. It's an effort that's drawn the interest of the office of the Secretary of Defense, and will go into production in January, Rivera said.

The agency also plans to offer SharePoint as a service to other military agencies, with deployment of SharePoint 2010 slated to begin in January 2011.

RACE is also due for some upgrades and improvements, Rivera said. Deployment on the Department of Defense's classified SIPRNet -- which has seen a lot of demand, according to Rivera -- is slated to begin by the end of September. Also coming are refinements to the RACE portal, integration with DISA's configuration management system, and some automated security accreditation processes.

Eventually, DISA could even begin offering its services outside the Department of Defense. According to Rivera, DISA has had related discussions with the inter-agency Cloud Computing Advisory Council and agencies like the Department of State to discuss the possibilities, but for now, RACE's access-control mechanism, which requires a military smartcard, remains a barrier.

DISA's cloud push isn't over, by a long shot. "We're in the beginning stages, but this certainly allows you to move toward leveraging technology and processing speed without having to build the network and the infrastructure yourself," DISA director Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett said in an interview.

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