As Army shutters data centers, ALTESS serves as ‘staging area’ for apps that aren’t cloud-ready

It’s now been a little over a year since the Army issued a highly-prescriptive directive, telling its commands and installations exactly which IT systems needed to move from which data centers, which data centers had to be closed, and when.

But it became clear pretty quickly that a lot of those applications just weren’t ready to move. In many cases, their design was too antiquated to run in a modern cloud computing environment. One solution to that problem has been ALTESS, something of a hybrid between a traditional data center and a cloud environment operated by the Army in Radford, Virginia.

Aside from hosting some of those applications until their owners find final target environments for them, ALTESS also helps modernize and sustain them, including by providing cybersecurity services.

“A lot of these Army application owners are being forced out of older data centers where their application’s been running smoothly for years, but they have not been modernized at all, they just haven’t been touched in years. Some of them are written on extinct software code,” Tim Hale, the ALTESS director, said on DoD Cloud. “They call us up and we take a look, do a full-up detailed assessment of their application and give them a vulnerability report. If they don’t have a system integrator, we can also do that job and modernize them, and seamlessly move them on to wherever their final hosting facility is, whether it be out in the commercial cloud or an enduring government data center.”

The Army’s detailed data center closure memo lists just ten worldwide “enterprise” data centers that the service intends to continue operating over the long term, and ALTESS, which has been up and running since 1959, is not on the list. Consequently, it’s not yet clear what the facility’s future will be. For the time being, the Army defines it as a “modernization hub.”

And for now, the proliferation of applications that are not yet cloud ready — but are being orphaned by legacy data center closures — has caused an explosion of demand for ALTESS’ services.

“We grew more last year than we ever have,” Hale said. “We grew about 20 percent from different customers that needed either a temporary or permanent facility. When the memo came out, it became the responsibility of the application owner to move it with their own funds, and none of them were really postured to be able to do that, no one had really budgeted for that. The reason that it’s been a slow process so far is just purely because of resourcing to do the modernization. A lot of people might say, ‘lift and shift, just take it out of that facility and put it over there.’ But that just doesn’t work for 99 percent of the applications.”

If and when ALTESS itself becomes the subject of an Army data center closure order, Hale strongly suspects the organization will continue to have an enduring mission, even if it’s no longer hosting applications in its virtualized environment. Application owners will continue to have a need for “cradle to grave” services to modernize and sustain their applications after they’re moved to the cloud, he said.

In addition, recent DoD policy defines several functions surrounding cloud application hosting as “inherently governmental,” and many of those are services that ALTESS already provides.

“Industry can do a lot of this work, whether or not they’re postured or whether or not they want to do that work or assume that kind of risk is a business decision,” he said. “But one of the things that’s obvious is the monitoring of these applications by [government] cybersecurity service providers, like at [Army Network Enterprise Techology Command] and DISA, and Army Research Lab also has one. And we’re piloting a program right now to be able to do those services for both Amazon and Azure and other commercial cloud providers as they mature.”