DISA’s new HaCC office reflects hybrid cloud reality for DOD

Media representatives film and take pictures of a US air force aircraft parked on the tarmac after an evacuation flight from Kabul at the Rota naval base in Rota, southern Spain, on August 31, 2021. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

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While commercial cloud projects like the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud and its looming replacement the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC) have dominated conversations around defense IT in recent years, the Defense Information Systems Agency has created a new office that acknowledges commercial cloud is not the end-all, be-all for the military.

A more hybrid solution can sometimes be the right one.

DISA recently merged its Cloud Computing Program Office with its Service Enterprise Directorate and Ecosystem and other entities to create the Hosting and Compute Center.

The new office — the result of a larger restructuring across DISA — was formed to drive efficiencies and create better synergies the former offices alone, Sharon Woods, the head of the office, told FedScoop recently. In addition, by bringing together DISA’s cloud arm with its on-premise data hosting functions, the agency has also set itself up to best embrace the reality that the U.S. military does not just depend on physical data centers nor only services hosted in the commercial cloud, but increasingly a mixture of both.

“From a mission standpoint, for the Hosting and Compute Center, our vision is empowering the warfighter to execute at the speed of mission, and thinking about hosting and compute in terms of unified hosting and compute,” Woods said on a recent episode of FedScoop’s Let’s Talk About IT podcast. The conversation, she said, can’t be a “binary and zero-sum game” of cloud versus on-premise data centers. “The technology is not that simple. And the department’s mission has a lot of complexity. And so when you look at it, there’s this whole space in between of hybrid cloud of both environments.”

That space in between is where the new HaCC lives. While the center is in charge of the Department of Defense’s forthcoming commercial cloud acquisition, the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability, it also accounts for those other services that by the nature of their sensitivity and classification must live in an on-premise data center.

“So the idea is it’s unified hosting and compute across a spectrum that also addresses cloud outside the United States, that addresses all classification levels, that addresses where our warfighters operate, which oftentimes, there’s, you know, terrible communications,” Woods told FedScop. “And so bringing it all together, rather than two groups of people sort of looking at each other across the river, it’s one group of people now. And that’s how we’re approaching the problem set.”

Woods pointed to the mission need for Joint All Domain Command and Control as a perfect example of this hybrid compute reality in which the DOD exists, bringing together disparate command and control systems, often at the far edges of the operational picture, with cloud interconnectivity and data analytics to power advanced decision-making.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier this year was a prime example of such a complex environment. The former DISA cloud office was working with Air Mobility Command and U.S. Transportation Command to deliver a common operating picture using based on data housed on a highly sensitive, on-premise command and control system on the ground in Kabul using the cloud.

“That system is very sensitive. It’s collecting data, that because of the different security rules, it may always stay on-prem,” Woods explained. “But then there was this need to have a common operating picture of real-time, being able to track you know over 300 aircraft and the cargo, the number of people that were in each of those aircraft. The level of analytics and compute that you need for that is very hard to achieve and scale when we had, you know, hours notice that this needed to happen on-prem.”

According to Woods, DISA was able to use “a cloud-native application using platform-as-a-service to visualize the data that was coming from the C2 system” along with the “translation piece in between.”

She called that a great example of the power of hybrid cloud and JADC2. “Because imagine if that C2 system were interoperable with other C2 systems, and now you’re collecting more than just the aircraft data, right, you’re overlaying other data.”

Woods also wanted to dispel the misconception that anything on-premise is there because it’s old and outdated. “On-prem isn’t just about my application being too old to ever go in the cloud. There are very legitimate reasons, whether it’s for resiliency or because of the sensitivity of the data, that the application, the workload needs to stay on-prem.”

“That’s just an oversimplification of the problem,” she said. “And it’s just simply not true. And I think this very modern use case that provided supercritical information for the department really illustrates exactly what the HaCC is trying to push forward of a hybrid kind of cloud mentality where it’s a spectrum of hosting and compute — it’s not just one or the other.”

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Afghanistan, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), hybrid cloud, Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability (JWCC), Sharon Woods
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