The Department of Defense’s (DoD) IT infrastructure connects more than three million networked users and encompasses some 772 data centers and 15,000 networks. Managing the DoD IT systems is a massive task. Nevertheless, the Department’s sprawling network architecture is not centrally managed, at times inhibiting mission-critical information sharing and upgrades on the ground. Proprietary systems and a lack of common standards dampen collaboration and restrict individuals’ ease of access to new networks. In short, the current IT architecture at DoD sometimes limits rather than enables mission operations. One part of the solution is apparent: transitioning to shared cloud services. Cloud services can help mitigate these challenges by reducing redundancy, enabling rapidly scalable computing performance, and promoting collaboration and information sharing. But the transition to cloud must be strategic in order to successfully break the barriers to information sharing and performance that exist today.
Congress has called for DoD to submit a performance plan outlining its approach to cloud. All Federal departments and agencies are required to conduct a portfolio review of their IT investments by the end of 2012, making this year a critical one for DoD’s IT decision-making. DoD leaders should use these mandates as an opportunity to develop and implement a strategic, enterprise-wide oriented approach to cloud. Departmental leadership should work to ensure that IT modernization efforts enhance information accessibility in supporting the mission of the Department—not reinforce information siloes that limit the efforts of warfighters and command operations today.
Thus far, the Department has taken a measured approach to cloud adoption on an enterprise-wide scale. In testimony to Congress, DoD’s CIO Teri Takai, has stated the initial deployment of defense-wide cloud computing services will take the form of public-facing applications and services required for interaction with industry and the general public. Other commonly-used IT services such as email, web collaboration, search, file storage, and video have also been identified for a transition to defense-wide cloud services, which are important steps in the process of adopting strategic, enterprise-oriented solutions.
Currently, the Department is taking a pilot program approach to adopting mission-oriented cloud solutions. One research and development initiative in the DoD budget request for Fiscal Year 2013 proposes deploying a cloud solution to support information sharing and bridge performance capability gaps in the Pacific Command. In another mission-oriented deployment, cloud services will be used to facilitate command and control operations. Department leaders should harvest the lessons learned from the demonstration projects to recognize the potential value of deploying proven cloud solutions on an enterprise scale.
For DoD, cloud computing offers the potential to improve IT performance, yield cost savings, and break down the barriers inhibiting information sharing, better equipping those in command and on the ground to perform the mission at hand. The promise of cloud for the Department, however, hinges on its ability to adopt a truly strategic approach to cloud—one that forgoes a tendency towards deploying fragmented systems and, instead adopts services shared widely across the Department. DoD, like many agencies, has a unique opportunity to streamline and modernize their IT infrastructure and fully realize the benefits that cloud computing can bring to a federal agency. This opportunity should not be squandered.
 Defense Business Board Task Group, “DoD Information Technology Modernization: A Recommended Approach to Data Center Consolidation and Cloud Computing,” January 19, 2012, http://dbb.defense.gov/pdf/IT_Modernization_Brief_FINAL_v28_C941.pdf.
 Teresa M. Takai, “Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request for Information Technology and Cyber Operations Programs,” Statement before the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, March 20, 2012, http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=d6d557bc-a941-49e0-996a-d29cf376fb0d.