Military Services Snub Defense Information Systems Agency as Cloud Broker

By Lloyd Mccoy

Under the Defense Department’s cloud computing strategy, the Defense Information Systems Agency is supposed to be the clearinghouse for such services. Less than 18 months after the policy was enacted, however, DISA’s role as the Pentagon’s sole cloud broker is being met with considerable skepticism and resistance.

The 2012 Defense Authorization Act mandated that the Pentagon transfer its data to cloud solutions. The Defense Department later that year released its cloud computing strategy, which designated DISA as the clearinghouse. That means DISA manages the use, performance and delivery of cloud services for all Defense Department customers.

As the cloud broker for the Defense Department, so far, DISA appears to be on shaky ground. Recent enterprise-wide initiatives managed by DISA have met with only mixed success. Military departments continue to want autonomy and question whether doing business through DISA is really any cheaper than going it alone. DISA charges service fees for its hosting duties.

Because of this pushback from military departments, DISA is considering reducing or terminating a $450 million commercial cloud contract — which speaks more to the reluctance of defense agencies than low demand for cloud services. The Navy and Marine Corps are already working with commercial cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services for many public, non-sensitive websites. They will likely work directly with commercial vendors if they decide to expand the services hosted on the commercial cloud.

In September, the Defense Department’s Chief Information Officer Teri Takai mandated that organizations migrate their email accounts to the DISA managed enterprise email. The Air Force has done so with its secret-level email, but officials have voiced skepticism over whether it makes financial sense to move its much larger unclassified email account system to the DISA cloud.

The Navy’s plans for its intranet successor, the $3.5 billion Next-Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN), already includes enterprise email as a core service. Navy Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen is investigating the cost to take the email component out of NGEN to accommodate the Defense Department’s enterprise email mandate. The cost analysis report was due in January.

Additionally, citing cost efficiencies, the Marine Corps recently moved many of its programs out of DISA’s data centers to host them on its own cloud service, the Marine Corps Enterprise Information Technology Services (MCEITS) center in Kansas City., Mo. With major enterprise-wide programs like NGEN and MCEITS already doing or scheduled to do for the Navy and Marine Corps what DISA seeks to accomplish — and perhaps at a lower cost — the Department of the Navy is actively seeking a more independent approach toward cloud procurement. Given their historic autonomy, it is unlikely that the maritime services will fully embrace DISA’s cloud broker role.

This is not to say that DISA will lack a prominent role in future cloud procurement for the department. The Army has been driving DISA’s effort to expand its cloud offerings and serve as the enterprise solution for the Defense Department. The service recently finished migrating almost 1.5 million unclassified email accounts to the DISA managed enterprise email and believes hundreds of millions of dollars will be saved over the next four years as a result. If significant savings are indeed achieved, it could prompt the rest of the department to fully come onboard.

Further, DISA is host to many of the Pentagon’s classified enterprise-wide operational programs such as the Distributed Common Ground System or Joint Operation Planning and Execution System, which are hosted on its Defense Enterprise Computing Centers. DISA expects this demand to grow and it recently issued the Enterprise Storage Service contract, which will upgrade its private storage capabilities.

The lack of a unified approach to cloud procurement could not have been what Takai envisioned. It could seriously complicate the department’s vision of a Joint Information Environment (JIE) for increased convergence, interoperability and shared services. DISA is to play a key role in cloud implementation and management for the department under the JIE framework, with the Defense Department centralizing server resources within core DISA-managed data centers. Willingness to outsource data and services to DISA hinges on the success of the JIE concept.

It remains to be seen whether DISA will be able to overcome the deep-seated reluctance among defense agencies to embrace Takai’s vision of how cloud services are to be procured within the department. Regardless, the market for cloud services throughout the Defense Department is sure to continue its robust growth for the foreseeable future.

Lloyd McCoy is market intelligence consultant with immixGroup, which helps technology companies do business with the government. He can be reached at

Topics: Defense Department, Infotech, Infotech, Infotech

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