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Cutting IT Costs

The adoption of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) has now opened new IT cost reduction opportunities. This option must now enter into DoD planning.

In FY11 DoD spent 54% of its total IT budget of $36.3 billion on its infrastructure. The remainder was spent on functional applications. In comparison with commercial practices the size of the DoD infrastructure is excessive. DoD has never managed to share its infrastructures. Programs were built as stand-alone “silos”, each with its stand-alone infrastructure.

For instance, even the simple effort to consolidate what is supposed to be a commodity application, such as a common e-mail for the Army, has ran into problems. The Army e-mail consolidation is difficult because of no shared standards, numerous local network modifications, inconsistent versions of software and incompatible desktops. The idea of placing parts of supply chain management, human resource systems, financial applications or administrative systems on shared platforms is too hard.
A sharing of the operational infrastructure is now feasible with PaaS platforms. PaaS calls for the separation between the software that defines the logic of an application and the method that describes how that applications will be placed in a computing environment.

A PaaS cloud provisions data center assets, data storage capacity, communication connections, security restrictions, load balancing and all administrative requirements such as Service Level Agreements (SLAs). A PaaS cloud can be private or public. It can support local needs or serve global requirements. A system developer can then concentrate exclusively on authoring the application logic. When that is done, the code can be passed to the PaaS platform for the delivery of results.

PaaS produces results without the cost and complexity of managing operations. In this way the total budget for a new application can be reduced. Programmers can concentrate on the business logic, leaving it to PaaS to take care of the hard to manage infrastructure. If you use PaaS all of the infrastructure components will be already installed. A PaaS cloud can then support hundreds and even thousands of shared applications infrastructures. Consequently, the total cost of DoD operations will decrease.

PaaS is an attractive solution except that each provider of platforms will try to lock up applications into their environment. Once an application code is checked into a vendor’s PaaS it will be difficult to ever check it out. There are hundreds of vendors who add refinements to their PaaS so that any extrication to another PaaS will remain as a restraint.

What a customer wants is not a vendor lock-in, but the ability to port applications from any PaaS to another. You can then shop for different terms of service from multiple suppliers. Portability of application code across PaaS services makes price competition possible. Availability of multiple PaaS clouds also makes for more reliable uptime.

To deal with the problem of interoperability across different PaaS vendors, VMware has just introduced the PaaS platform, the cloud foundry. What is unique is that this is open source software. A number of firms have already signed up to support this approach. The only restriction is that all of the applications must conform to compatible software frameworks such as Spring for Java apps, Rails and Sinatra for Ruby apps and Node.js.

An open source cloud platform prevents vendor monopoly, it allows for competitive procurement, makes cross-cloud support available and offers the exercise of multiple options how services can be delivered. Such arrangement will assure customers about improved quality and maintainability.
In the next few years DoD will have to depend on the cloud technologies that are available from contractors. Cloud computing services are available from several hundred firms. This includes Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Rackspace, AT&T, Verizon and many others. According to the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act , DOD must migrate its data from government-administered cloud services, and instead use private-sector offerings “that provide a better capability at a lower cost with the same or greater degree of security.”

A DoD customer contracts for a PaaS platform offering with features that are desired. In effect, the PaaS vendor delivers data center services while the customer retains full control over the application software.

DoD policy of Ocober 16, 2009 provides guidance regarding the use of Open Source Software. Open Source Software (OSS) is software for which the human-readable source code is available for use, study, reuse, modification, enhancement, and redistribution by the users. VMware PaaS meets the definition of commercial computer software and must be given statutory preference.
The broad peer-review enabled by publicly available open source code supports software reliability and security efforts through the identification and elimination of defects that might otherwise go unrecognized. The unrestricted ability to modify software source code then enables DoD to respond more rapidly to changing situations, missions, and future threats which otherwise would be constrained by vendor licensing.

The availability of the cloud foundry opens a new approach how to proceed with the migration to cloud computing. The more reliable PaaS may not take over unless DoD will change its thinking how to organize the development and operations of IT.

NOTE: Originally published as "Incoming" in AFCEA Signal Magazine, 2012

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