The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is pursuing a multi-cloud hybrid strategy that gives users greater choices and changes the portion of computing that remains on-premise – which is critical when bringing capabilities to disparate environments – the agency’s top tech official said on March 21.
During Federal News Network’s DoD Cloud Exchange 2023, Mark Taylor, USSOCOM’s chief technical officer, said that the agency is creating a multi-cloud hybrid strategy that features a blend of robust cloud capability combined with powerful disconnected and edge computing.
Many of the missions under USSOCOM’s purview take place in austere locations where broadband communications, for example, may be unavailable, and which takes reach-back to commercial clouds off the table.
“We’re normally not operating missions in Malibu or Times Square or someplace nice. We’re normally doing it in some part of the world that’s not necessarily hospitable,” said Taylor. He said he is working to give the command’s activities a choice of commercial clouds.
On a practical level, Taylor explained, having just one cloud vendor is just not realistic anymore. He said USSOCOM has organically adopted and has in use several cloud service providers at varying levels of maturity among the command’s cloud users.
“Cloud services providers, both big and small, each have desirable – if differing – qualities,” he said.
With a multi-cloud hybrid strategy, Taylor explained he can try to provide an enterprise offering “or at least corral them to some degree, so that we could offer the different types of clouds at different [security] impact levels.” This will result in USSOCOM components consuming cloud services through an organized set of contracts “versus half-sanctioned, shadow IT.”
In addition, Taylor said that this strategy not only gives users a choice, but it also changes the portion of computing that remains on-premise by adopting a cloud-first mindset.
The data center component must now meet a new definition of hybrid, he said – aligning cloud and on-premises services.
“While some services do remain in physical data centers, those facilities must operate exactly like the cloud,” Taylor said. “As you buy new gear, you need to make sure you are buying gear that can look and feel just like your cloud experience. That’s the critical difference.”
There are three major benefits associated with aligning cloud and on-premise services. The first is USSOCOM won’t have to sustain parallel but different computing skillsets, ensuring the agency has just one operating force that knows how to work, Taylor said.
“In turn, this also helps the users. Then everyone has a uniform computing experience, regardless of where they are or what application they are using,” he said.
The second benefit is that uniformity enhances the ability to deliver effective computing to austere environments, which is a continual demand for USSOCOM. Additionally, when a field device returns to network connectivity, “whatever new data or analysis occurred offline can then sync either with the cloud hosting the original application or with the on-premises computers that look like the cloud,” Taylor explained.
Lastly, the alignment of cloud and on-premise service provides quicker value from any capital expenditures USSOCOM does make.
This is because a cloud-first approach strategy means looking at refreshing a traditional data center from the perspective of the full enterprise from the get-go, rather than buying “$5 million worth of stuff and then beginning to figure out how to extract value from that bunch of bare metal,” Taylor said.
The scale and the flexibility of the cloud relative to an on-prem capability are not news. And while cloud computing is hardly free, it still allows for an organization “to better match requirements and therefore costs because of the ability to scale up and scale back with computing,” Taylor said.