Aug 15 2014

DoD Greenlights Cloud Computing Pilots for Sensitive Military Data

The Defense Department will test models for hosting some sensitive data in commercially operated cloud environments.

The Defense Department is seriously considering how it can move certain classifications of sensitive data into secure cloud environments operated by private companies.

DoD’s acting CIO, Terry Halvorsen, said the department will announce five pilots within the next 20 days. “I won’t give you the exact timeline, but it could be the first of September,” Halvorsen told attendees Wednesday at the Federal Forum conference sponsored by MeriTalk and Brocade in Washington, D.C.

Halvorsen’s team received approval to begin testing how DoD can migrate level 3 and level 4 military data to the cloud. These classification levels are for controlled unclassified information (CUI), which includes data that are For Official Use Only (FOUO), Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES) or DoD Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information.

DoD likely won't move this type of data into what Halvorsen calls the “standard, open cloud” or commercial cloud environment. Instead, DoD will host data in semi-private cloud or government-only clouds offered by the private sector.

Here’s one scenario: DoD may ask a commercial vendor to operate DoD’s cloud environment, but IT assets would be in a government facility, Halvorsen explained. “I think you will see us do some things like that.”

DoD Wants Commercial Capabilities

The department is looking to industry for more than cloud computing capabilities. As DoD embarks on what will be the largest modernization effort across the department, the services and component agencies will have to take better advantage of the commercial sector, Halvorsen said, referring to the Joint Information Environment.

That could mean embracing some forms of commercial encryption and accepting more risk in the department’s unclassified environment in order to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. “I certainly don’t want to take risks on my classified data,” Halvorsen said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

DoD is also taking advantage of private-sector innovation in the mobile arena. The department now has unclassified smartphones with dual-persona capabilities that segment business use from personal use of the device. DoD is also rolling out classified phones that will empower commanders on the move.

Halvorsen made clear that the DoD components don’t want commercial technologies that will lock them in with one vendor. “We also need to talk to partners about how to position networks in the environment for what’s next,” he said.

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