US military rains on Google's parade

The US Department of Defense is offering cloud computing services that military officials claim are safer and more reliable than commercial providers such as Google.

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The US Department of Defense is offering cloud computing services that military officials claim are safer and more reliable than commercial providers such as Google.

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) announced that it is allowing military users to run applications in production mode on its cloud computing platform, which is called RACE for Rapid Access Computing Environment.

Since its launch a year ago, RACE has been available for test and development of new applications, but not for operations.

Military officials say RACE is now ready to deliver cutting-edge applications to military personnel.

Henry Sienkiewicz, technical program director of DISA's computing services and RACE team, says RACE is more secure and stable than commercial cloud services. Google, for example, has suffered from frequent service outages including high profile Gmail and Google News outages in September.

"We have service level agreements for all of our services and for all of our applications. We're using the same method of SLA inside the RACE environment as our regular computing environment. We achieve 99.999% availability at all times," Sienkiewicz says.

In contrast, Google claims 99.9% availability for Google Apps.

Sienkiewicz says DISA is applying "the same rigor in availability and performance of any of our other applications such as payroll, financial systems and logistics systems. It's exactly the same rigor of delivery inside our RACE environment."

DISA also is applying the same information assurance process to its cloud-based applications as it applies to applications that run on traditional computing platforms.

DISA said it has figured out a way to streamline its security accreditation process, which now lasts 40 days on average instead of 80 days. DISA was able to reduce this timeframe because it has built information assurance controls into its RACE platform.

"We had to look at multi-tenancy and how do we allow that inside the department given the information assurance concerns," Sienkiewicz says. "You normally are able to rack and stack the applications [in a cloud environment.]. What we've built into this is application separation….The department has a policy that separates applications, databases and web servers from each other. We've taken all those pieces into account."

For its cloud based applications, DISA conducts a full SAS 70 audit. DISA also has a strict data cleansing process in case an application is removed from the RACE platform, and the virtual server and storage media need to be wiped.

"We can give the same amount of security and credibility to the marketplace with DISA's cloud offering as with any other computing service," Sienkiewicz says. "Security is one of the things we have to keep foremost… which is significantly different than some of our contemporaries [in cloud computing.]"

DISA has been operating RACE since October 2008. Since then, hundreds of military applications including command and control systems, convoy control systems, and satellite programs have been developed and tested on its user-provisioned virtual servers.

"We've had a very good margin of success," Sienkiewicz says. "Our return on value is measured in a variety of ways. Are the users able to have a self-service portal? The answer to that is a resounding yes. Are they willing to have an extreme amount of standardisation?... Are they willing to use government credit cards online with a portal? The answer is yes."

Now, DISA is offering these customers the option of using RACE to run the applications they've developed using the cloud-based platform. DISA's goal is to more rapidly deploy new applications to military personnel.

"Usually we make decisions better and faster than our adversaries," Sienkiewicz says. RACE "is one of those ways we're allowing software development to keep up."

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