Air Force moves portal to commercial cloud, begins migrating other apps

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A big change occurred for airmen last month, but it may be a little while longer before they notice it.

The Air Force Portal, known for posting promotional lists and other information, now lives in in the cloud. The portal is only one of many apps that will eventually move to a commercial cloud environment.

The portal migrated to Amazon Web Services on June 30 and is opening up some new possibilities for the 750,000 users a month. The Air Force is putting some of its software in Microsoft’s Azure as well.

Hanscom Air Force Base, which hosts the part of the Air Force Lifecycle Management Center in charge of cloud is now in the process of moving other applications over to the cloud.

“We currently have 39 applications in our pipeline that are being refactored to go live in the cloud. We have eight applications right now, the portal being one of them,” said Kerry Coburn, program manager for common computing environment acquisitions at Hanscom. “Beyond that 39, we have another 84 that we are putting on contract … I expect that slowly our airmen are going to see a huge increase in the responsiveness of the apps that they use daily to do their jobs”

Coburn said the apps range from logistics applications that affect real-time, real-world applications to human resources functions to financial work.

The Air Force is conducting a hybrid approach to developing the apps by working with a prime contractor and small businesses to develop apps and migrate apps to the new cloud environment.

“In the future we are going to award another contract that will continue this work and open it up to more vendors to refactor and migrate applications,” Coburn said.

Less software, more savings

The AWS cloud uses a pay-as-you-go model instead of a flat fee to charge the Air Force, leading to savings when cloud traffic is down. It also means the contractor has an incentive to make the portal and the cloud as useful as possible so more airmen will use it.

“They have a vested interest in providing more and more services because it’s all metered usage. The more services they can provide the more money they can make, so they have an interest in providing better service,” said Bob Oshel, systems architect at Isobar, a company that helped the Air Force with the conversion process.

Coburn said the Air Force’s previous environment was very software heavy.

The Air Force previously used Defense Information Systems Agency data centers to host its applications.

“Now our services are running at a cost of about $140,000 a month, if you compare this to our heritage environment, where the software alone costs us $1.3 million, and don’t include the labor to support that system. That is a huge savings upfront,” Coburn said.

Oshel said there were a number of challenges the Air Force faced in migrating from the cloud environment.

“We had to upgrade, sometimes several versions of the software during the migration and then also in a traditional data center you things like network attached storage, which aren’t necessarily a one-to-one comparison to cloud services. Those were some challenges, as well as a lot of historical platforms, application platforms,” Oshel said.

The Air Force’s transition to commercial cloud services comes at a time when the military as a whole is trying to figure out how it will move to the cloud. DoD recently released the  final JEDI cloud solicitation and DISA is working on an enterprisewide cloud approach to office software called the Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS).