Navy pivots to ‘decentralized’ approach to cloud migration, with new brokers throughout its organization

Two years after it decided to consolidate the management of its data center consolidation and cloud migration operations into one office because its migrations to the commercial cloud were proceeding too slowly, the Navy is now taking the opposite approach, and mostly for the same reasons.

The service’s program executive office for enterprise information systems (PEO EIS) will assume a new role under the latest strategy, approved recently by Rear Adm. Danelle Barrett, the Navy’s chief information officer. PEO EIS — acting on Barrett’s behalf — will retain overall authority for cloud governance and policy, but will no longer be the Navy’s sole broker for commercial cloud services.

Instead, those duties will be dispersed throughout the Navy’s various functional communities. Eight new cloud brokers have been designated so far, including Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, Naval Supply Systems Command, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Military Sealift Command, Navy Installations Command and the office of Strategic Systems Programs. In most cases, those commands’ CIOs will take the lead in the cloud brokerage role.

“The bottom line is we’ve learned from our mistakes,” said Dan DelGrosso, the technical director for PEO EIS. “As we’re scaling to the size of the Navy, it’s been realized pretty quickly that we can’t have a center point of gravity trying to do it all. That’s a bottleneck, and we want to try to get away from that. So we’re decentralizing cloud management to the greatest extent possible while operating under a governance structure to ensure everybody is on the same page. It’s recognized that there are different requirements within each area of responsibility, but at the end of the day we all need to be aligned and synchronize as a department.”

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Much of the overall coordination work will be led by a new cloud project office the Navy stood up earlier this week. That office is also leading PEO EIS’ acquisition effort for an enterprise-wide commercial cloud contract that officials plan to award by June of this year and would serve as at least one of the environments the Navy’s systems commands could target as they use their new brokerage role to move their own legacy systems to the cloud.

Officials announced the changes during the Navy Department CIO’s semiannual conference in San Diego on Wednesday. A panel of SYSCOM CIOs appeared to welcome the new responsibilities, even if there are still several unanswered questions about how the new arrangement will work in practice.

Although the Navy has managed to move only a tiny percentage of its legacy systems to commercial cloud environments, the SYSCOMs have had some early successes with new ones. For example, a system designed to perform centralized tracking for $13 billion in military construction-related acquisitions for the Navy and Marine Corps went live in a hosting environment provided by Amazon Web Services on Tuesday, said Robert Baker, the CIO at Naval Facilities and Engineering Command.

“I’ve got an exceptionally professional team who will be the executor of the brokerage, and I envision that we’ll be able to accomplish what we need to do, but we need systems that are ready for cloud,” he said.

And it’s not entirely clear how many systems are ready, at least at the application level, said Les Hubbard, the CIO for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. The mission owners of those applications, having recently been required to re-architect many of them in order to comply with previous Navy initiatives to consolidate into a smaller number of data centers, are already experiencing “virtualization fatigue.”

“They were not resourced to do it, but they pushed through and did it,” he said. “Now we’re asking them to move again to cloud, and the cloud environments that we’re moving into are not all the same. Are we going to have to reengineer every application for every possible cloud environment that we may reside in? How are we going to compete these? Are we going to be able to sole source? These are questions that we need to ask as we as we move forward to make sure we’re making maximum use of our resources to accomplish the migration of applications and data into these new environments.”

Those are questions the Navy Department’s senior leadership is also keenly aware of, and is asking of itself in hopes of preventing lock-in to a single vendor for any particular application, and to make sure it gets the hoped-for benefits of cloud computing — like cutting-edge machine learning, data management and elastic IT resources — without simply lifting and shifting old apps into new data environments.

“What I want to do is actually use moving to the cloud as a forcing function to say, ‘What applications do I really need?’” said Dr. Kelly Fletcher, the acting Department of the Navy CIO. “Do we need to move it? Do we need to keep it around at all? Do we need to build a new one? And we have [a similar] data problem. We have legacy data that’s going to be in the cloud. The good news is it won’t be in a box in the basement anymore, but it will be the same quality, which in some cases is just real, real bad. We have to look at our data and decide if we need it. If we do need it, why is it of such low quality? And then we have to make sure that we label the data so that as we move things to the cloud, and wherever we store it, these systems are interoperable.”

To the extent that those systems reside in off-premises commercial hosting environments, they’ll also need to be ubiquitously accessible via a robust and fully unified network, something the Navy doesn’t yet have, at least not to its CIOs’ satisfaction.

Officials are aiming to improve the situation via a recompetition of the Navy’s Next Generation Enterprise Network contract, a procurement effort that envisions, among various other long-term aims, an eventual convergence of overseas networks like ONE-NET into the stateside Navy-Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), increases in bandwidth and a more cloud-centric architecture.

But for the short-term, NMCI — at least as it exists today — presents challenges of its own if the Navy is to fully adopt the principle of “cloud first.”

“We need one intranet, and it needs to have infrastructure that can do access to the cloud for telework, remote work, wherever it might be,” Baker said. “Twice this week, all of our systems failed. We wouldn’t expect that to happen with the cloud, but it does happen inside NMCI every day.”