Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cloud Computing for DoD Business Applications

Popular slides in recent presentations keep announcing the arrival of a new computing environment – the “cloud” - that will make all applications work better, faster and cheaper. However, there are difference between generalizations and reality. Even at an optimistic 25% growth rate, the current cloud spending is less than 5% of total IT spending, though at that growth rate if may soon become one of the dominant forms for organizing information systems. Time has come for the DoD Business Mission to start picking the path to cloud operations in order to migrate from its current high cost and low performance environment.

The DoD FY10 IT cost of the Business Mission (exclusive of the payroll costs for uniformed and civilian personnel) is $5.2 Billion plus about one third of the costs of the communications and computing infrastructure adding another $5.4 Billion to total costs.

The scope of DoD Business Applications exceeds by a multiple of three the average IT budgets of the largest US corporate organizations. Consequently, DoD Business Operations must think about its future IT directions as operating a secure and private cloud that is managed organically by the DoD Business Mission in order to reap the benefits offered by the cloud environment.

Cloud computing comes in many forms. They are: Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS); Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). From the standpoint of the Department of Defense we will discuss only offerings that can offer complete support of over 2,000 applications.
Business Operations cannot be attached to "public" clouds that are proprietary.

For instance, DoD cannot rely on the largest “cloud” service, such as the Amazon Elastic Cloud. Amazon offers computing capacity that is totally managed by the customer, which is operated as a “public cloud”.  Computing processing is purchased on demand. This makes Amazon an IaaS service. However, once you place your applications in the proprietary Amazon cloud, the ability to transfer the workload into a different environment would be difficult to extricate from.

The Google App Engine offers a (PaaS) service as a “public cloud”, which is accessible to all.  Google allows developers to build, host and then run web applications on Google's mature infrastructure with Google’s own operating system. Google provides only a few Google managed applications.

Enterprise level computing by Salesforce.com now operates at a $1.4 billion revenue rate per year, with 2 million subscribers signed up for SaaS application services running in a proprietary PaaS environment. Salesforce offers only proprietary solutions and cannot be considered by DoD though this will most likely change as result of a recent partnership agreement with VMware.

There are several other cloud providers, such as Terremark Worldwide, that offer IaaS services, but in every instance leave it to customers to manage their own applications. These organizations qualify for DoD applications provided that would meet open source and security criteria.

Open Platform and Open Source

The Microsoft Windows Azure platform offers a PaaS environment for developers to create cloud applications. If offers services running in Microsoft’s data centers in a proprietary .Net environment. Azure runs preferentially .Net applications, which are integrated into a Microsoft controlled software environment, but which can be defined almost entirely as a “closed” platform.

DoD Business Mission applications are running largely in a Microsoft .Net environment at present. The question is whether DoD will pursue cloud migration into a multi-vendor “open platform” and “open source” programming environment, or whether DoD will continue adhering to a restrictive Microsoft .Net? This matter will be discussed in a future blog that will deal with the economics of evolving from .Net legacy solutions.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), with the largest share of the DoD IT budget, has advocated the adoption of the open source SourceForge library in April, 2009 for unclassified programs. DISA's Forge.mil program enables collaborative software development and cross-program sharing of software, system components and services in support of network-centric operations and warfare. Forge.mil is modeled from concepts proven in open-source software development. It represents a collection of screened software components and is used by thousands of developers, taking advantage of a huge library of tested software projects. Forge.mil components are continually evaluated by thousands of contributors, including contributions to its library by firms such as IBM, Oracle and HP but not from Microsoft, which continues to control its own library of codes.

A DoD Memorandum of October 16, 2009 signed by the Acting DoD Chief Information Officer on “Clarifying Guidance Regarding Open Source Software (OSS)” defines OSS as software for which the human-readable source code is available for use, study, reuse, modification, enhancement, and redistribution by the users of that software.” Accordingly, OSS meets the definition of “commercial computer software” and shall be given preference in building systems. With the announcement of Forge.mil DoD has started the process of adoption of open source computer code.

Implications

The migration of business applications into the cloud environment calls for a reorientation of systems development technologies in favor of running on “private” clouds while also taking advantage of “open source” techniques for maximum savings.

The technologies now available for the construction of “private” clouds will ultimately make it possible to achieve the complete separation of the platforms on which applications run from the applications themselves . In addition, the simplification that can be achieved through the sharing of “open” source code from the Forge.mil library makes it possible to deliver cloud solutions faster, better and cheaper.

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