In the U.S. Army’s continued adoption of cloud infrastructure to gain a competitive advantage in multi-domain operations, the choice to move away from legacy on-prem systems can boil down to the same equation in play when deciding to buy an electric vehicle instead of sticking with traditional gasoline-powered models.

Army Col. Donald Burton, Project Manager, Defense Integrated Business Systems (DIBS), used that analogy to frame the service branch’s decision-making on cloud adoption during a presentation at FCW’s Cloud Summit event on April 6.

The Army official talked about the role of IT modernization in forging the next generations of digitally-driven weapons systems that aim to bring data to warfighters at the “need of speed,” and said the decision to move to modern cloud infrastructure comes down to weighing the investment payoffs from cloud services versus on-prem systems.

Explaining the service branch’s evaluation of IT modernization choices, Burton likened the debate to buying a new vehicle and then deciding between gasoline and electric-powered models such as those made by Tesla.

“You’re probably going to spend a little bit more for Tesla, but there are some benefits that you may not realize immediately, but that you’ll realize over time,” he explained. Those may include not paying for gasoline, and reduced maintenance costs.

A key consideration, he said, is figuring out the investment value of the choice over the longer term.

“You’ve got to pay that initial cost upfront, but that’s truly an investment,” he said. “What you’re going to find is your break-even point is going to happen later down the road … If you look at it in the short term, you’re going to probably say it’s not worth it.”

“But what I will tell you is you’re going to realize that savings over time, and in addition to that if you think about it from a software and enhancement upgrading capability … you’re going to get software drops on a recurring basis, and that’s going to give you more capabilities,” he said.

But, he continued, “if you purchase the regular car now, in order to get that that [future] modernization or enhancement, you have to sell that car and then purchase the new car in order to get those benefits.”

“I use the analogy of the Tesla in reference to the cloud,” Burton said. Going to the cloud, we’re able to leverage some of those things that the cloud provides from a security perspective … elasticity, automation, scalability that I’m able to now utilize as opposed to procuring and managing, and maintaining hardware in a data center that I have to refresh every so many years.”

With on-prem systems, “over time that sustainment bill is much higher than it is by being in the cloud,” he said. “And then I’m able to use what I need when I need it.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.