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Defense Agency Plans Platform-As-A-Service Offering

Defense Information Systems Agency officials liken the new service, which will be available next spring, to Google App Engine and Microsoft Windows Azure.

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The Defense Information Systems Agency plans to release by next April a platform-as-a-service offering to add to a suite of cloud services that already includes infrastructure-as-a-service offering RACE and cloud development platform Forge.mil, DISA officials said Wednesday at the military agency's annual Customer and Industry Forum in Baltimore.

The new offering, which DISA solutions architect John Robinson likened to Google App Engine and Microsoft Windows Azure, is a platform on which apps and services can be deployed, but which doesn't require users to have to worry about provisioning the underlying servers, security, or management.

DISA first unveiled plans for a future platform-as-a-service offering last July, but at that point provided only scant detail and no timeline on what's now set to become a full-scale offering to the rest of the Department of Defense. The offering grew out of a pilot with the Air Force. It will eventually take on two shades: one specifically designed for the Air Force, and one that will be more generally available to the rest of the DOD for both classified and unclassified uses.

The general version will use RACE as its underpinning in order to take advantage of RACE's utility-based billing and dynamic resource allocation capabilities, meaning that DISA doesn't have to reinvent the wheel with this new service. DISA will also provide other lower-layer services like security, and the platform-as-a-service will tie into the Forge.mil application development lifecycle service for users who want to do test and development on the new offering.

At the operating system level, the new offering will support both Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Windows Server 2008 apps. Initial capabilities will power Java Web apps, though DISA also plans to support other commercial off the shelf software and custom software as well. There will be data platform support for Oracle, MySQL and LDAP services. Data services will eventually include data mediation and transformation, data synchronization, and messaging.

While the general version of the platform-as-a-service will be powered by RACE, the Air Force specifically requested a service that didn't rely on hypervisors, and so the Air Force version will do all the virtualization at the Java layer with Java Virtual Machines. It will also include Air Force-specific access controls.

Even though the offering will be disaggregated from the infrastructure layer, customers won't be blind to the servers churning away underneath the platform-as-a-service. DISA will offer widgets and dashboards to provide users with some insight into what's going on in the background with the underlying servers so that they can do initial triage for service problems. "We're hoping this will help with the resolution of problems more efficiently," Robinson said.

In a sign that DISA sees commercial services like those from Google and Microsoft, Robinson took special care to show how its platform-as-a-service offering will differ from those services, noting that all data will remain private, that the offering will be run only by American nationals with security clearances, that it will meet all DOD cybersecurity standards, and that it might even wind up being cheaper in the end than commercial service.

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