Why we're sold on the cloud

The Missile Defense Agency CIO explains how cloud computing is helping to drive cost efficiencies, boost service levels and ease management.

Even before "cloud first" became the IT strategy for federal departments, we at the Missile Defense Agency looked to cloud computing to better serve our customers. For data integrity and information assurance compliance, we built and deployed a private cloud. This was the best way to provide optimal service, reduce failure points and operating costs, and create a more easily managed environment.

We realized early on that cloud technologies, especially virtualization, could help us consolidate and manage hardware and software resources. We use our private cloud for software-, platform-, infrastructure- and communications-as-a-service for our internal customers. We have also set up some hybrid clouds using software and infrastructure from other defense service providers. Now we're planning more hybrid projects, leveraging defense and federal-approved government and commercial vendors. We'll also consider cloud alternatives for any future significant IT investment.

For us or anyone else in IT services, this shift to the cloud is a logical technological progression. What's made cloud computing viable in today's world, besides the well-known server, storage and network virtualization technologies, is the huge improvement in the availability of bandwidth and communications connectivity at a reasonable cost. We now have bandwidth capacity that is far more robust and secure than ever before, which allows us to both consume and provide cloud services.

At Missile Defense, cloud services are dispersed across multiple locations with multiple means of connecting to those sites. Particularly in the defense sector, we demand high availability and security for our applications and services, and those are key considerations for future investments as we determine what services should be kept in a traditional environment and what can be serviced by cloud providers.

In those areas where cloud makes sense, it offers a number of advantages. First, it reduces failure points that existed previously when we had services on dedicated resources. Another benefit is the speed of provisioning and moving or duplicating workloads across different locations. We operate around the world, and with cloud we can now move more quickly to ensure that a new effort -- or one whose priority level has changed -- is set up as it should be. This can make a huge difference in our overall success and is a visible benefit to our customers.

We also like the cost efficiencies we've seen from pooling server and storage resources across the agency, and the way the ability to manage all of those resources in a more logical manner benefits my team. Cloud computing is attractive today because it can reduce IT infrastructure and management costs. Regional consolidation has been an option for some time, but because of the connectivity improvements, we can now pool resources across great distances with confidence. That's an obvious benefit in terms of efficiency.

Going forward, I can see the cloud making a huge difference for our mobile workforce. The support we provide to our customers in the field is already improving significantly. We anticipate that continued dramatic improvements in wireless connectivity will help cloud computing fulfill its potential to provide a truly seamless user experience across devices. Soon, you can expect seamless access to all of your applications and data across multiple connected devices, such as smartphones and laptops -- from any location.

Mobility has been a cornerstone of defense activity, so anything that can make the mobile experience better, or mobile forces more effective, will be significant to our future.

Next: Feds race to the cloud

Jim Armstrong is CIO of the Missile Defense Agency, a multibillion-dollar global Department of Defense effort. Its mission is to develop, field and operate missile defense capabilities for the U.S., its deployed forces and its allies.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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