While moving to cloud computing offers great upside potential, from saving money to increased flexibility and more sophisticated apps, the Defense Department has to approach it with great caution because the potential consequences of a bad decision could be so high.
That cautionary message came from David Bennett, CIO at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the keynote speaker at the 2014 Cloud Computing Brainstorm held at the Newseum Sept. 10.
“People are saying cloud is the savior of mankind, the answer to all issues,” Bennett said. “It’s very viable for reducing costs, but we need to understand what it means to leverage the cloud [and] the risks of migrating to the cloud.”
DoD does not move quickly. “In some places I refer to us as a pregnant turtle trying to move someplace,” he said. While there is no question that cloud computing holds great promise, “from the Department’s perspective, we’ve spent decades building up our IT infrastructure and we’re pretty comfortable with it. The thing about the cloud is … this is new. What are going to be those impacts?”
Bennett said moving to the cloud is not so much a risk as it is a balancing act. While the biggest topic of conversation is how much money it can save, he said, it is important to think about the impact on performance, and how the systems tied to it.
“What are my tradeoffs? How fast is it? Am I getting the right security posture with it? What about the long term, [when] we’re not always thinking longer term,” he said. “We run into issues because of that sometimes … If we move to the cloud, can we come back? Technically, yes, but can you really come back?”
Bennett also pointed out that even if moving to the cloud does save money, from the perspective of federal budgeting there is the challenge of “the colors of money.”
“The reality is, we have certain colors of money to procure hardware, not colors of money to procure services,” he said, referring to spending categories. They change, at best, every two years. “Does the organization have the right color of money to move to the cloud? If something goes wrong and you think you need to go back to the Pentagon [and change things], now you don’t have the right color of money” again, he said.
There are other aspects he worries about. If DoD has 10 petabytes of data in a contractor’s facility and the contract expires, Bennett wonders what happens to the data. How does he move it?
“It’s not insurmountable, not impossible, but we need to look at it in a way that’s not just what are the immediate rewards, [so that] the experience turns out the way we want it to turn out,” Bennett said.