Redstone in the Cloud

About a year ago, Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell, the Army’s now-retired chief information officer, speaking to a panel in Arlington, Virginia, announced that the Army would begin a hybrid-cloud program that would move large amounts of Army data to a cloud that would be located at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

Cloud computing is a type of internet-based data handling that provides shared computer processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand. The idea is that moving Army data and applications to the Redstone Cloud would relieve the various Army commands of some of the information technology issues and allow them to focus on “core competencies.”

Fast forward to last January when IBM announced that the Army had signed a five-year, $63 million contract with the firm to build, manage and operate the Redstone Cloud, which now is up and running.

According to Tim Kleppinger, IBM’s senior client partner for Army accounts, the Redstone Cloud went live this past March. He says IBM has completed all of the infrastructure preparation and “now we have begun receiving the applications. We go through a process of modernizing them to meet the standards to go into this cloud and then migrating them into the cloud. So over a period of the next several years we will basically get through about a couple of hundred applications a year, so it will take a few years to get this done. ”

“It has been a very successful contract, ” says Dave Hathaway, IBM vice president, defense and intelligence. “We put our best team on it, so we were ahead of schedule going into March. We have been through all the testing, and we are now receiving applications.”

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The selection of Huntsville, according to Hathaway, was “largely an Army decision, but I would say that from an IBM standpoint, Huntsville is and was of interest to us, given the workforce that is there and available to IBM and given some other large projects that we have there at Redstone Arsenal. The Huntsville area and Redstone in particular was a really good place for the project, and it is something that has been working out very well for us.”

Hathaway says the building that houses the cloud already existed and fit the purpose, and “one of the reasons IBM won this contract is that we are, in my view, the best suited. We’re doing similar work inside a command called the Army’s Logistic Support Activity, which is also on Redstone, and it is a managed service of their data center, which is very similar in many ways to a private cloud.

“Now, there will be three more of these clouds: one will be at Fort Carson, Colorado, the next one at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and the last one at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They all have existing data centers, so the intent is not to build but to use existing capabilities and make it into a virtual environment where we can bring in those thousands of apps from all over the Army and consolidate.

“The Army Private Cloud Environment contract, the one that we won last December, APCE, is the first of four private clouds that the Army plans to implement and they represent the consolidation of more than a thousand applications and data producing storing activities across the Army.”

Kleppinger says, “Redstone is one of the largest owners of applications in the Army logistics community and the four-star headquarters of the Army Materiel Command reside at Redstone Arsenal, so the view was that they could get off to the best start possible if they had a captured audience.”

Kleppinger says the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM), along with the Army CIO and the Army PEO (Program Executive Officer) for EIS (Enterprise Information Systems), will decide what applications go first and in what order, what priority and how they are bundled. “So primarily the first ones are going to be the materiel command applications, and there are a bunch of them, and that will get us through the next six months, and then we will start bringing in other applications.”

As might be expected, security is a key concern, another reason Hathaway says IBM was selected for the job.

“IBM has a specialty in dealing with these different security levels as they apply to different cloud platforms, ” Hathaway says. “Impact Level 5, for example, is the highest level of unclassified data, so it is data that is still unclassified but it is sensitive, so it has to be protected at the Impact Level 5. It has certain requirements around it. Impact Level 6 is classified data that would run on the SIPRNet.”

“There is very clear guidance that is laid out by security authorities regarding the security precautions that need to be achieved at each of the different levels of security. So we run cloud infrastructure and manage infrastructure from Impact Level 2 all the way to Impact Level 5 right now.”

Hathaway says some of the data will have an Impact Level 6 classification, which is information up to secret, “but that is a bit of a specialty area regarding how you safeguard different software components and different technical components of these cloud infrastructures.”

Kleppinger says all four of the cloud projects will likely result in about 500 jobs. “It is not a huge contract as far as manpower, ” he says, and not all of the jobs will be on-site.  Some will be supporting positions.

One of the more difficult aspects of the project, Kleppinger says, has been prioritizing which applications the Army wants to move and in what order. “That is a difficult process, because there are complex applications, there are simple applications, there are applications that are similar to each other, and it is more advantageous to migrate them together in many cases just because of time and money. This is one of our strong capabilities within IBM. We have our own federal clouds, commercial clouds, so it is the type of work we do and we do well.”

But, Kleppinger says, it is a big job for the Army “to identify the applications and prioritize them and begin moving them into the queue to be modernized and migrated.”

Hathaway says the movement to cloud computing has spread across the Department of Defense, and all the services are devising strategies on how to move to cloud computing and how to modernize and migrate applications to cloud platforms.

“Within the services, the strategies vary somewhat on where they are going to focus and which applications they are going to migrate first, what type of cloud platform and what security levels they want to try to focus on, but I think across the DOD all the services have different programs and activities to migrate applications to cloud computing. It is a very active area for all of the departments.”

Hathaway adds: “The Department of Defense, in this particular instance, the Army, is really doing a nice job of reaching out to industry and reaching out to commercial providers like IBM regarding how to execute their cloud strategies and what are the best ways to go about this. They have an enormous amount of application workload that needs to be modernized and migrated over to cloud computing for all the benefits you read about — efficiency benefits, economic benefits. They are working well with industry, but there is a lot left to do.”

“IBM really looked forward to the opportunity to take on this mission, ” Kleppinger says, “because it really is a way to help the Army improve its capabilities while reducing its footprint of applications and data centers across the globe. It is going to save the taxpayers money and improve performance, and that is what we like to do. We are in business like everybody else, but the most important thing for our company is to help our customers solve their most difficult problems. And this is one.”

The CIA’s Cloud: IBM v Amazon

Redstone Arsenal is the first of the Pentagon’s military bases to start moving data into the cloud, but the Pentagon lags behind the Central Intelligence Agency in making such a move. In early 2013 the CIA awarded a $600 million, 10-year cloud contract to Amazon Web Services. Web Services has a much higher profit margin for Amazon than its more widely known retail operations.

IBM and an unnamed third vendor also bid on the CIA contract. IBM filed a protest of the Amazon award, which was upheld by the GAO, but Amazon took that decision to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and won.

Bill Gerdes is a freelance contributor to Business Alabama. He is based in Hoover.


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