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Is Cloud Computing for Real?

Summary of Session by CIO of the National Reconnaissance Office at Cloud Expo New York

In October 2009, Enterprise Cloud Computing was considered bleeding edge technology by many but there was something that seemed different about its value potential and adoption rate. For CIOs, it seemed a chance to provision affordable infrastructure quickly, alleviating delays to mission critical deliveries. Federal CIOs interest in Enterprise Cloud Computing was limited to innovators and early adopters. Two years later, where does Enterprise Cloud Computing stand? Is it for real?



Today, Cloud Computing is on the Gartner® technology hype curve in the “peak of inflated expectations” category. Its placement on the curve—even though we all should prepare for the dreaded “trough of disillusionment” dip—indicates Cloud Computing is, indeed, for real. There are other indicators of note also. CIOs across the board are focused on the success Cloud Computing can deliver. Vendors are sparring with each other to obtain space in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. The Federal CIO has issued a “Cloud First” policy and published the first Federal Cloud Computing Strategy. And, it’s been featured in the hit comic strip Dilbert—a pop culture indicator worth noting!

Federal agencies need IT solutions that can handle current missions—from supporting counter-terrorism to combating proliferation of weapons of mass destruction--and we need IT that can handle global surge demands based on fluctuating world events and natural disasters. Federal IT must be efficiently adaptable and properly affordable to meet evolving mission needs. It must be capable of keeping pace with the exponential growth of data, including the increasing complexities of maintaining legal and regulatory compliance of information management and assurance.

As a CIO, building your cloud strategy can be confusing as there are many options to consider before making a decision. Cloud Computing can deliver within a variety of characteristics. Each CIO will need to consider the characteristics of primary importance in order to properly center a strategy. For example, determining your needs for rapid elasticity, on-demand self-service, global access, and payment options will be necessary to develop the right strategy. The second consideration for a CIO is just how far up the stack she wants to go. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) each deliver different features and capabilities for your business. You can develop a plan that includes some or all of the Services. Finally, a CIO needs to think about the deployment model(s) that best fit her business (Public, Private, Community, and Hybrid).

Cloud Computing isn’t perfect; there are concerns to manage and mistakes to avoid. The number one concern remains Security and that’s given rise to Enterprise Cloud Computing deployments and private clouds. But, there are other concerns also such as the skill set of your workforce, requirements for compliance verification, legacy baseline migration, and costs. For example, depending on the percentage of your legacy that can successfully transition to Cloud, your cost-benefit equation may not provide sufficient return for the investment.

Common mistakes to avoid include: assuming Cloud Computing is for everything; planning for a “light switch” migration from legacy to new; selecting only one vendor and creating early lock-in; underestimating the cultural change required by your own IT team; and implementing a bunch of mini- clouds in your existing data closets.

We’ve spent 18 months developing the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) IT strategy and roadmap; we gave it a lot of thought but it is just an example and not the only way to move forward. Our cloud delivery model will be private first and then a hybrid of private and community (with our Intelligence Community colleagues). We’re moving our way up the stack starting with IaaS and PaaS first, then SaaS. And, we are focused on a phased revolutionary approach—building a new environment as a green field.

Our planning has highlighted the need to focus attention on management of the NRO Cloud. Defining specific roles and responsibilities, articulating cloud service level agreements between the provider and users, adjusting organizational constructs to fit the Cloud business model, and streamlining configuration control processes to meet the rapid timelines of provisioning must all be addressed if success is to be achieved. Our planning also indicated the NRO mission would not be served by a CPU-based commodity cloud alone. We also need a high-performance cloud that is GPU-based and we are learning there are industry gaps in this area.

The NRO Cloud strategy won’t be too different from how other Federal agencies adopt Cloud Computing. Most agencies processing classified information are focused on private clouds versus public clouds for security and information management/assurance reasons. Over time, though, I believe federal community clouds will emerge, as will private hybrid clouds, which allow agencies to maintain a private space as well as take advantage of federal community clouds.

The NRO Cloud will be implemented in four phases over the course of 6 years. It’s a complex migration necessarily paced to meet federal budget processes, existing acquisition commitments, and mission service imperatives.

  • Phase 1 – Test It. We have multiple small cloud pilots ongoing covering commodity/utility cloud, high performance cloud, and big data cloud. We are focused on streamlining information assurance compliance, developing appropriate policies and processes, and defining standards.
  • Phase 2 – Prove It. In this phase, we will merge successful elements from Phase 1, finalize policies, prototype management and governance changes necessary for cloud provisioning models, refine standards, realign programs as needed, and ensure enterprise foundation capabilities meet mission demands.
  • Phase 3 – Use It. Scaled deployment of the enterprise Cloud will occur. Applications will develop specific transition and migration plans generally aligned with planned refresh cycles. Service management processes and new centralized information assurance approaches will be refined for long-term success.
  • Phase 4 – Exploit It. The NRO Cloud will emerge as the primary Enterprise Infrastructure Services Provider with robust measures of effectiveness, performance accountability, and service transparency. New mission and business applications will emerge through innovations in Cloud Computing and federation with the IC Cloud will be achieved moving the NRO into a hybrid environment.

In summary, the time for Cloud Computing is now. All of the indicators are in place to suggest a rapid and successful migration to this newest generation of IT architecture. It is not a one-size-fits-all migration. CIOs will need to spend time exploring Cloud Computing solutions to find the combination that best responds to specific mission and business needs. Maintaining awareness of the concerns and mistakes is absolutely necessary and security remains the top concern. Security is a huge focus for IT vendors and creative, robust solutions will be constantly emerging to reduce concerns. Large organizations will increasingly turn to Enterprise Cloud Computing strategies to achieve efficiencies of Cloud Computing while reducing risks of exposure for intellectual property, customer privacy, and competitive strategies.

More Stories By Jill Tummler Singer

Jill Tummler Singer is CIO for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)- which as part of the 16-member Intelligence Community plays a primary role in achieving information superiority for the U.S. Government and Armed Forces. A DoD agency, the NRO is staffed by DoD and CIA personnel. It is funded through the National Reconnaissance Program, part of the National Foreign Intelligence Program.

Prior to joining the NRO, Singer was Deputy CIO at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where she was responsible for ensuring CIA had the information, technology, and infrastructure necessary to effectively execute its missions. Prior to her appointment as Deputy CIO, she served as the Director of the Diplomatic Telecommunications Service (DTS), United States Department of State, and was responsible for global network services to US foreign missions.

Singer has served in several senior leadership positions within the Federal Government. She was the head of Systems Engineering, Architecture, and Planning for CIA's global infrastructure organization. She served as the Director of Architecture and Implementation for the Intelligence Community CIO and pioneered the technology and management concepts that are the basis for multi-agency secure collaboration. She also served within CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology.

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