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On Monday, the Department of Defense's (DoD) campaign to migrate to the cloud took a major step forward. General Dynamics Information Technologies (GDIT) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that through milCloud 2.0, DoD users would now have access to AWS's world-class commercial cloud solutions. AWS will provide a major boost to milCloud 2.0 in critical areas such as cloud migration, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics and security. By bringing AWS onto the milCloud contract, GDIT can better meet the central goal of DoD’s Cloud Strategy: providing readily accessible, enterprise-wide commercial cloud services hosted in a secure setting that can handle vast amounts of data and offer a variety of applications at various levels of classification.

When it comes to IT and cloud computing, DoD has been one of the most aggressive adopters of cloud technologies. However, to acquire their desired cloud architecture and applications, the Services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and defense agencies often went their own way regarding hardware and software. DoD now operates more than 500 clouds, with some entities contracting for multiple clouds. In addition, many offices and components in the Pentagon continue to employ legacy applications and data formats that cannot be readily replaced and difficult to migrate to the cloud.

This decentralized strategy resulted in many problems for users and limitations on how cloud computing could be employed as a warfighting tool. According to a report to Congress, this approach "created numerous seams, incongruent baselines, and additional layers of complexity for managing data and services at an enterprise level. Scattering DoD's data across a multitude of clouds further inhibits the ability to access and analyze critical data." Multiple clouds also increase potential security vulnerabilities.

DoD is on a mission to consolidate most of the Pentagon’s IT systems and services through a series of far-reaching cloud computing contracts. The goal is to improve information sharing and empower the warfighter. DoD’s Cloud Strategy seeks to create enterprise-wide solutions that will improve the flow of information, enhance decision-making, and reduce costs by consolidating many of these disparate IT systems, applications and clouds, all while simultaneously providing improved security. These large-scale solutions are intended to enable all of DoD to work together, share information easily and securely, reduce costs of cloud services, and ensure that the warfighter can access actionable intelligence in a timely manner.

To date, DoD’s most well-established and arguably most successful enterprise-wide cloud contract is called milCloud 2.0. Hosted on DoD facilities and networks, milCloud 2.0 is a flexible, multi-purpose commercial cloud that hosts mission-critical applications and data. Unlike many existing cloud contracts, milCloud 2.0 is known for the ease with which users can access its services and applications. Likewise, milCloud 2.0 supports the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA) goals of accelerating cloud adoption, simplifying acquisition, and improving mission effectiveness.

First begun in 2013, milCloud 1.0 proved of such value that in 2017, DISA decided to upgrade the project, creating milCloud 2.0. The new contract expanded both data services and available applications while making it easier for prospective users to join the platform (new users can access the contract in as few as 48 hours). milCloud 2.0 allowed DoD users to access a broad range of cloud services, largely based on state-of-the-art commercial offerings, but with the added necessary cybersecurity measures. In addition, milCloud 2.0 makes it easier for new users to make the transition from legacy clouds or even stand-alone storage systems. As technology evolves, milCloud 2.0 allows users to rapidly access cloud storage, software, applications and capabilities, removing the need for complex, time consuming and costly task orders, contract revisions, or new solicitations.

After the experience of implementing milCloud 1.0, milCloud 2.0 has specifically been structured to allow users extreme flexibility in how they manage data and which applications they employ. Under the leadership of GDIT, milCloud 2.0 provides users access to a wide range of strategic partners, including Oracle, Cisco Systems, Intel, Red Hat and VMWare. In addition, the new contract has improved the ability to add new partners and expand the products and services offered.

The newest addition to the milCloud 2.0 team is AWS, the world's largest cloud service provider. According to the press release from GDIT and AWS: “Through this collaboration between AWS and GDIT, DoD customers can access leading cloud services from AWS in areas such as compute, storage, database, networking, analytics, machine learning, migration, security, and more.”

This is particularly significant in view of AWS’s ability to rapidly innovate. DoD users will now have easy access to AWS cloud solutions through the expedited contracting approach employed by milCloud 2.0.

In addition to cutting edge services and applications, AWS will bring its vast experience in critical functional areas to milCloud2.0. AWS has what may be the greatest base of experience in migrating data and applications to the cloud, something that is central to milCloud2.0’s mission. In part as a result of its extensive work for the Intelligence Community, AWS can provide an unequaled level of security for cloud activities. This is particularly important in the aftermath of the SolarWinds cyberattack.

The agreement between GDIT and AWS allows milCloud 2.0 to operate as a true hybrid cloud. A hybrid cloud is one that combines private and public cloud services. Activities can be moved between the private and public clouds depending on the nature of the work, cost and classification. milCloud 2.0 will now be able to manage workloads between the proprietary servers maintained by GDIT at secure facilities and off-premises commercial cloud servers managed by AWS. The latter capability is particularly desirable as milCloud 2.0 seeks to expand its out-of-CONUS activities to support forward deployed forces.

DoD is still learning how to manage enterprise-wide clouds that span the range of users, workloads, classification levels and storage requirements. The GDIT-AWS collaboration is a major step forward in providing the range and types of cloud services to support warfighters operating around the world down to the tactical edge. DoD’s Cloud Strategy is now one major step closer to fulfillment.

Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full bio here.

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