A memorandum issued by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan establishes an initiative to move many DoD IT systems to the cloud, a move that members of industry are applauding for its potential to open the department to faster innovation.

“I am directing aggressive steps to establish a culture of experimentation, adaptation, and risk-taking; to ensure we are employing emerging technologies to meet warfighter needs; and to increase speed and agility in technology development and procurement,” Shanahan wrote. “While technological modernization has many dimensions, I believe accelerating the DoD’s adoption of cloud computing technologies is critical to maintaining our military’s technological advantage.”

In the letter, Shanahan said that recent trips to Seattle and Palo Alto, Calif., made the Secretary of Defense aware of the necessity for the private sector’s rapid innovation to be included in the Defense Department.

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“This is a very positive action,” said Stephen R. Kovac, vice president of Global Government and Compliance at Zscaler, “because it shares a realization at the most senior levels that commercial innovators and Silicon Valley companies, such as Google and AWS as well as emerging Software-as-a Service and cloud-based Security-as-a-Service providers that ride on top of these platforms, are producing revolutionary cloud and cybersecurity solutions at a much faster pace than DoD can test and procure through the standard procurement channels.”

Kovac added that this change should also shorten the procurement process for those cloud companies already working with DoD.

“There’s a ton of innovation that’s available to the government and it just needs someone to take a risk,” said Rob Davies, executive vice president of operations at ViON. “I hope it means their voices and suggestions will get that much more of a hearing.”

The memo establishes a Cloud Executive Steering Group (CESG) chaired by Ellen Lord, undersecretary for defense acquisition, technology, and logistics, and organizes the cloud acquisition in two phases.

“This cloud adoption initiative will occur in two phases,” wrote Shanahan. “During phase 1, DoD will use a tailored acquisition process to acquire a modern enterprise cloud services solution that can support unclassified, secret, and top secret information. This cloud services contract will also include, at a minimum, in-depth technical analysis of the current environment, the necessary cloud migration support, change management, and training. I am tasking the Director of DDS [Defense Digital Service] to lead phase 1. During phase 2, the CESG will rapidly transition select DoD components or agencies to the acquired cloud solution, and, to the maximum extent possible, operationalize its mission using the security, software, and machine learning capabilities that cloud technology provides.”

The CESG will also deliver a report on the department’s cloud action plan by Nov. 15.

“Clearly this is an actionable approach,” said Kovac. “They are not only recommending a course of action, but also providing a detailed phased plan with assigned leads. This shows the DoD’s serious commitment to transition to more cloud-based solutions at every level of classification.”

An industry source familiar with the memo applauded the efforts it took to tackle the low-hanging fruit of cloud migration and Software-as-a-Service, but noted that those things it addressed are only a small part of what DoD does.

“You just don’t take a legacy app from the DoD and drop it into the cloud,” the source said, adding that future cloud plans for the department will have to consider both Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Service challenges around application modernization.

Though the memo is addressed to many members of DoD leadership, such as the secretaries of various military departments and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the DoD CIO and Defense Information Systems Agency leadership are notably absent from the memo.

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Jessie Bur
Jessie Bur
Jessie Bur is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Cybersecurity, FedRAMP, GSA, Congress, Treasury, DOJ, NIST and Cloud Computing.