With help from DIUx, TRANSCOM on-track to conduct DoD’s first large-scale cloud migration

U.S. Transportation Command has begun what may well be the most aggressive cloud computing migration the Defense Department has ever attempted, both in terms of its scale and of its pace.

By next July, TRANSCOM plans to have migrated all of the logistics systems it uses to interface with the private-sector transportation companies who move DoD goods and personnel by air, land and sea. Those systems — there are 72 in all — make up a significant chunk of the command’s overall IT spend, and five have already successfully transitioned. Twenty-two more are planned by the end of December.

The first wave of migrations came mere months after the command stood up an internal “cloud center of excellence,” a cross-functional team of IT and subject matter experts tasked with figuring out how to move TRANSCOM’s systems to the cloud quickly without compromising security.

To speed up the contracting process, the command decided to ask for help from the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx), which helped broker discussions with roughly 20 vendors. It wound up settling on a $2.4 million other transaction agreement (OTA) with REAN Cloud, a Herndon, Virginia-based company to assist with the first wave of migrations on a pilot basis.

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Lt. Col. John Riester, the deputy chief of TRANSCOM’s enterprise infrastructure portfolio and support division, said the agreement was not for cloud services per se, but for engineering and integration help, so that the command’s applications could be quickly moved to service offerings from any of a number of cloud providers who’ve already earned security certifications under the federal government’s FedRAMP process and met the additional requirements DoD requires for sensitive data.

The key, Riester said, is that the contract gives TRANSCOM a “repeatable process” to prepare its systems to shift from the government-operated data centers that he said represented a single point of failure for its missions.

“But as we move to a cloud-based solution and we start to build in some redundancy and some resiliency to those applications, we can guarantee they have 99.99 percent availability to the warfighter, and we’re also building in a lot of automation,” he said. “Presently, we have a lot of manually-intensive work tasks that we need to do that take a lot of time from our workforce. As we move to the cloud, a lot of our processes become automated and we can focus more on the data and the application, instead of the tasks that we have to take care of now in the manual process.”

TRANSCOM’s cloud center decided its logistics systems were the most natural candidates for migration to a commercial environment, since they need to be accessed by commercial transportation companies 24/7 and there’s very little reason to house them inside military networks. But it has not ruled out using a similar process to begin moving its internal business systems to the cloud.

“Things like file exchange, email, so on and so forth, is going to stay on-premises, at least for the time being.  But we’re looking at it in the near future,” Riester said.

Transportation Command’s cloud project may be a pathfinder at a time that the Pentagon is making broader moves that suggest its top leadership is extremely serious about getting Defense IT executives to stop admiring the potential benefits of cloud computing and get on with large-scale migrations.

In a September memo, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan deemed cloud adoption “critical to maintaining our military’s technological advantage” and appointed a cloud executive steering group (CESG) to prod the department toward speedier cloud migrations. The CESG is supposed to lead the way by acquiring a new cloud “solution” and then pushing DoD components to adopt it.

In late October, the steering group issued a request for information, saying it wanted to develop an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service cloud models that can serve troops both in and out of the continental U.S.

The RFI is made up of roughly two dozen high-level questions that ask cloud firms for input on everything from lessons learned from their customers’ previous migrations of legacy systems to recommended pricing models to how they could deliver data to bandwidth-disadvantaged troops at the “tactical edge.”

Although the questions are broad and basic, the authors make clear that DoD plans to use the answers to help award a very large cloud contract sometime in 2018, and that the CESG is willing to pursue changes any to current DoD and federal policies that are standing in the way of cloud adoption.

If the group concludes that there are policies that need to be revised or abolished, they stand a good chance of success, since Shanahan has ordered the CESG to brief him personally every two weeks on what it’s up to and how he can assist.

Seven years after the federal government first articulated a “cloud first” policy, it may be the case that the cultural barriers that have kept DoD from moving to the cloud in a meaningful way can only be broken when a boss who sits a layer above an organization’s traditional IT policymaking apparatus orders that it be done.

That was the case, at least, at TRANSCOM, where its top officer, Gen. Darren McDew, made cloud migration a priority.

“This has been championed by Gen. McDew, and also across the staff,” Riester said. “It’s let us look at the art of the possible when we’re moving to the cloud. And as we started to educate and bring more of our workforce along, it’s helped them realize the benefits and some of the things that can help and improve their jobs, from a security standpoint, building in assurance to their applications, guaranteeing their customer and the warfighter that they’re going to be able to carry out the mission.”