Most Defense Department employees have learned to do without mobile computing, and at the same time, they are learning tough lessons about the realities surrounding cloud computing and open source software.
“I get to experience the absence of mobile every day,” said G. Daniel Doney, the chief innovation officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Because of the security requirements that are somewhat unique to the defense and intelligence communities, Doney and his colleagues have been forced to do without a capability many in government now take for granted.
“I have to leave a significant platform on the seat of my car,” said Doney, speaking at the Adobe Digital Government Assembly today, hosted by FedScoop in the heart of Pentagon City in Arlington, Va. “I am disconnected the minute I walk away from my desk. I’m completely cut off from my staff.”
Daniel Risacher, the associate director of enterprise services and integration for DOD, characterize the department’s enterprise mobile initiative as an “ongoing work in progress with a lot of challenges ahead.”
According to Risacher, the real value in mobile computing is in the development and availability of apps. But there are strict security requirements that must be met before those apps can be allowed to run inside DOD networks.
“How do we authenticate the supply chain for those apps?” he said. “There’s lots of promise, but lots of challenges remain for the defense and intelligence community.”
The same is true for open source software and cloud computing in the defense enterprise, according to both Risacher and Doney.
According to Doney, open source software is a “very important” part of DIA’s strategy going forward, but “it is not, in an of itself, transformational.”
For Doney and DIA, real transformation can be found in open standards. So DIA has done something virtually unheard of for an intelligence agency: it has developed a full, high fidelity emulation of its computing environment (without the classified data) for open source developers to work with as they seek to provide DIA with new innovations.
“It exposes us to the outside world and the [application programming interfaces],” Doney said. “Now, the innovators … can actually contribute to our environment in a very meaningful way.”
The so-called Open Innovation Gateway is currently in its first iteration and will be announced in the next couple of days, with a full release scheduled for June, Doney said.
“It’s a required entry point that enforces those standards,” he said.
But not all of DOD’s ventures into the world of open source have been as well thought-out as DIA’s.
Risacher said he recently became aware of a major effort by a DOD component to pump millions of dollars in development into an open source software package to make it enterprise ready. But when Risacher asked if the team had been feeding its development work back into the open source community (the main philosophy behind the improvement of open source software), the answer was no.
To many, Risacher’s response was priceless. “So you just bought yourself a $10 million fork,” he said.
Kathy Conrad, principal deputy associate administrator at the General Services Administration, praised the government’s Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program efforts to standardized security authorizations for cloud deployments across the government.
But DOD is exercising more caution when it comes to cloud. According to Risacher, the Pentagon doesn’t have any immediate plans to store sensitive data in any of its public clouds.
“Anything that is sort of real business data … up to classified data, we’re going to keep in our own networks,” Risacher said.
DIA’s Doney said “the jury is still out” when it comes to the governmentwide push to deploy cloud for all agencies and all functions.
“The thinking that the cloud will dramatically reduce the cost of operation alone, is flawed,” Doney said. “Where the cloud meets the enterprise, we’re still weak across government.”