DISA CIO: Cloud Computing ‘Something We Absolutely Have to Do’

By Derrick Harris

October 20, 2008

Cloud computing has its share of naysayers, no doubt, but John Garing is not among them.

Garing, CIO of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), believes cloud computing will be a driving force in the Department of Defense (DoD). In fact, Garing says that although he shares some of the concerns espoused by the IT media (such as the danger of hosting multiple applications on a single platform), he, personally, is more than optimistic, calling cloud computing “something we absolutely have to do.”

“We have seen what … Amazon [and] Google have done, and it seems to us that there is a need for that,” he explains. “For example, if you deploy a force somewhere in the world for disaster relief … or a special operations team, they ought to be able to connect to the network like you or I can from home, and bring together or compose … the services and information they need for what they’re doing at that particular place and time, rather than have to connect to a bunch of applications.”

Step 1: RACE

The first step in this journey kicked off on Oct. 14, when DISA’s RACE (Rapid Access Computing Environment) infrastructure went live. RACE is a shared services cloud that gives DISA customers on-demand, self-service access to developmental testing resources. Although RACE is located entirely within DISA’s walls, customers still get the public cloud experience with a Web portal, 24-hour-a-day availability, a service catalog and a credit card payment option. RACE supports applications built on either the LAMP or Windows stacks.

Like most cloud computing initiatives, efficiency and cost-savings were big drivers of RACE. Garing says the ability for users to compose services in minutes and pay for the testing infrastructure only as they use it is a better option than the “elaborate process” of writing a funding document, doing an interdepartmental requisition for funds transferred and so on. A week ago, he saw someone experimenting on RACE provision a Web site and do the funds transfer in only 7 minutes. “That’s pretty impressive for the Department of Defense, or the federal government,” he jokes. “Seven months would be more like it.”

In terms of cost, Garing believes the cloud model must be “a whole lot cheaper than the way we do business traditionally” because it helps avoid a large capital investment. The old acquisition model includes over-provisioning infrastructure for each application to meet uncertain demand, resulting in untold quantities of idle resources. Additionally, Garing says, DISA has a full cost recovery policy for IT expenditures. With a five-year straight-line depreciation period and two-year average contracts, DISA’s users do not have much time to recover their costs. With RACE, however, all they have to do is turn resources on and off in DISA’s datacenters.

Alfred Rivera, director of computing services for DISA, says the foundation of RACE is the agency’s capacity on demand initiative. The physical resources for RACE are located in DISA’s datacenters, but it has entered into contracts with various vendors to buy capacity “by the drink,” with the vendors retaining capital ownership of the boxes. He elaborated that this is a “joint capacity” relationship where DISA manages capacity utilization in support of its customers, and the vendors ensure DISA has the capacity to meet its growth demands.

For now, the processing contracts for RACE belong to HP, Sun, ViON and Apptis, with ViON also winning the storage contract.

A second-order effect of the cloud initiative, says Rivera, is the ability to put in place a standard, homogenous architecture, which further reduces costs and complexity. Garing says the traditional procedure is that customers go to Rivera’s Computing Services Directorate to host their applications, and are charged for the services they want. However, he added, configurations vary greatly depending on which division is develops the applications and which contractors they choose to work with. With RACE, he says, departments need to specify with contractors that applications must conform to either LAMP or Windows.

This being the DoD, however, it should come as no surprise that performance — specifically as it relates to agility and speed — also is of the utmost importance. Garing says that because the DoD cannot always predict where its forces will be deployed, or for what purpose, the agency needs a platform that can deliver on these characteristics. “It’s all about the war fighter,” he stated. “Everything is about the war fighter and those other people at the edge who need to have information to do their jobs.” The cloud model will edge users to focus their talents on innovation rather than on worrying about storage, databases or computing power, he added.

Just a Testing Environment… For Now

Although RACE is strictly a development and testing environment for the time being, DISA definitely has bigger things in mind. “It’s the germ upon which we will grow this more important cloud, this platform,” says Garing.

Rivera says DISA is taking “baby steps” right now, addressing near-term issues like security while moving “very carefully” toward new architectures, technologies and uses to support departmental customers and war fighters. On the agenda, once security is hammered out and a seamless transition plan is in place, is rolling out a production environment. Infrastructure-wise, Rivera says the end game is “a finite architecture that is homogenous,” which probably will include Solaris support for war fighters, and an IBM presence.

He added that DISA also is looking to build a “Federated Development Certification Environment”  — a foundational set of applications and services on top of which customers can develop edge-type tools for publishing information and getting access to data stores. And although RACE currently is focused on defense support, Rivera says DoD back office support is not out of the question.

Garing agrees, citing increasing pressure and acquiescence to enterprise-type services within the DoD as driving RACE’s use in broader environments. However, he says, any new services will always be under the control of the Computing Services Directorate, and the goal of encouraging standard application types will remain.

Public Clouds: Tempting, but Dangerous

What are the prospects of DISA acquiring resources from a public cloud provider? “I don’t see it happening any time soon,” says Garing.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t like it to. Garing says DISA has talked to providers like Google, Amazon and Salesforce.com, and really likes what it has seen, but one of the strengths of those clouds is that you can’t tell where data is being processed, and “we are not at a level of sophistication where we would accept that.” Possible solutions include carving off part of a public cloud under a .mil domain or having someone build DISA its own cloud (both of which have been proposed and discussed), but that’s not really the point, Garing says. “The dilemma is [that] the strengths of these public clouds are incredible, in my view,” he explains. “To take one of those — an element of it, an aspect of it, a piece of it — and put it inside our firewall would seem to me to start to sub-optimize the benefits of the cloud that you’re trying to use.”

Garing draws an “irresistible force versus immovable object” analogy to illustrate more clearly DISA’s internal dilemma. In this case, he says, the irresistible force is the “incredible thirst for collaboration and information-sharing that Web 2.0 tools and many young people have brought on board,” and the immovable object is security — “and those two clash frequently.” DISA’s job, particularly that of the Computing Services Directorate, is to arbitrate that clash and make good risk decisions, he says. Often times, this means looking at the worst-case scenario and taking a conservative route, because while the agency’s decisions are made inside the Washington, D.C., beltway, the ultimate consideration has to be what kind of risk the operational commander is willing to take.

“It’s like a big, beautiful plum hanging out there [that] we’d like to grab, but it’s like the fruit of the poison vine almost,” says Garing. “You’ve got to be so careful.”


On-Demand Enterprise will follow this look at the Department of Defense’s cloud computing strategy with a piece on how the federal government as a whole might adopt cloud computing technologies.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petaflops ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Weekly Twitter Roundup (Dec. 1, 2016)

December 1, 2016

Here at HPCwire, we aim to keep the HPC community apprised of the most relevant and interesting news items that get tweeted throughout the week. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

HPC Career Notes (Dec. 2016)

December 1, 2016

In this monthly feature, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the latest career developments for individuals in the high performance computing community. Read more…

By Thomas Ayres

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

IBM and NSF Computing Pioneer Erich Bloch Dies at 91

November 30, 2016

Erich Bloch, a computational pioneer whose competitive zeal and commercial bent helped transform the National Science Foundation while he was its director, died last Friday at age 91. Bloch was a productive force to be reckoned. During his long stint at IBM prior to joining NSF Bloch spearheaded development of the “Stretch” supercomputer and IBM’s phenomenally successful System/360. Read more…

By John Russell

Pioneering Programmers Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

November 30, 2016

In an awards ceremony on November 22, President Barack Obama recognized 21 recipients with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Seagate-led SAGE Project Delivers Update on Exascale Goals

November 29, 2016

Roughly a year and a half after its launch, the SAGE exascale storage project led by Seagate has delivered a substantive interim report – Data Storage for Extreme Scale. Read more…

By John Russell

Japan Plans Super-Efficient AI Supercomputer

November 28, 2016

Japan intends to deploy a 130-petaflops (half-precision) supercomputer by early 2018 as part of a 19.5 billion yen ($173 million) project called ABCI (for AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Launches Massive 100 Petaflops ‘Sneakernet’

December 1, 2016

Amazon Web Services now offers a way to move data into its cloud by the truckload. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

Seagate-led SAGE Project Delivers Update on Exascale Goals

November 29, 2016

Roughly a year and a half after its launch, the SAGE exascale storage project led by Seagate has delivered a substantive interim report – Data Storage for Extreme Scale. Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Sees Bright Future for AI Supercomputing

November 23, 2016

Graphics chipmaker Nvidia made a strong showing at SC16 in Salt Lake City last week. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE-SGI to Tackle Exascale and Enterprise Targets

November 22, 2016

At first blush, and maybe second blush too, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s (HPE) purchase of SGI seems like an unambiguous win-win. SGI’s advanced shared memory technology, its popular UV product line (Hanna), deep vertical market expertise, and services-led go-to-market capability all give HPE a leg up in its drive to remake itself. Bear in mind HPE came into existence just a year ago with the split of Hewlett-Packard. The computer landscape, including HPC, is shifting with still unclear consequences. One wonders who’s next on the deal block following Dell’s recent merger with EMC. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Details AI Hardware Strategy for Post-GPU Age

November 21, 2016

Last week at SC16, Intel revealed its product roadmap for embedding its processors with key capabilities and attributes needed to take artificial intelligence (AI) to the next level. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

SC Says Farewell to Salt Lake City, See You in Denver

November 18, 2016

After an intense four-day flurry of activity (and a cold snap that brought some actual snow flurries), the SC16 show floor closed yesterday (Thursday) and the always-extensive technical program wound down today. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave SC16 Update: What’s Bo Ewald Saying These Days

November 18, 2016

Tucked in a back section of the SC16 exhibit hall, quantum computing pioneer D-Wave has been talking up its new 2000-qubit processor announced in September. Forget for a moment the criticism sometimes aimed at D-Wave. This small Canadian company has sold several machines including, for example, ones to Lockheed and NASA, and has worked with Google on mapping machine learning problems to quantum computing. In July Los Alamos National Laboratory took possession of a 1000-quibit D-Wave 2X system that LANL ordered a year ago around the time of SC15. Read more…

By John Russell

Why 2016 Is the Most Important Year in HPC in Over Two Decades

August 23, 2016

In 1994, two NASA employees connected 16 commodity workstations together using a standard Ethernet LAN and installed open-source message passing software that allowed their number-crunching scientific application to run on the whole “cluster” of machines as if it were a single entity. Read more…

By Vincent Natoli, Stone Ridge Technology

IBM Advances Against x86 with Power9

August 30, 2016

After offering OpenPower Summit attendees a limited preview in April, IBM is unveiling further details of its next-gen CPU, Power9, which the tech mainstay is counting on to regain market share ceded to rival Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Beats Azure to K80 General Availability

September 30, 2016

Amazon Web Services has seeded its cloud with Nvidia Tesla K80 GPUs to meet the growing demand for accelerated computing across an increasingly-diverse range of workloads. The P2 instance family is a welcome addition for compute- and data-focused users who were growing frustrated with the performance limitations of Amazon's G2 instances, which are backed by three-year-old Nvidia GRID K520 graphics cards. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Think Fast – Is Neuromorphic Computing Set to Leap Forward?

August 15, 2016

Steadily advancing neuromorphic computing technology has created high expectations for this fundamentally different approach to computing. Read more…

By John Russell

The Exascale Computing Project Awards $39.8M to 22 Projects

September 7, 2016

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) hit an important milestone today with the announcement of its first round of funding, moving the nation closer to its goal of reaching capable exascale computing by 2023. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Gobbles SGI for Larger Slice of $11B HPC Pie

August 11, 2016

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) announced today that it will acquire rival HPC server maker SGI for $7.75 per share, or about $275 million, inclusive of cash and debt. The deal ends the seven-year reprieve that kept the SGI banner flying after Rackable Systems purchased the bankrupt Silicon Graphics Inc. for $25 million in 2009 and assumed the SGI brand. Bringing SGI into its fold bolsters HPE's high-performance computing and data analytics capabilities and expands its position... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ARM Unveils Scalable Vector Extension for HPC at Hot Chips

August 22, 2016

ARM and Fujitsu today announced a scalable vector extension (SVE) to the ARMv8-A architecture intended to enhance ARM capabilities in HPC workloads. Fujitsu is the lead silicon partner in the effort (so far) and will use ARM with SVE technology in its post K computer, Japan’s next flagship supercomputer planned for the 2020 timeframe. This is an important incremental step for ARM, which seeks to push more aggressively into mainstream and HPC server markets. Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Debuts Power8 Chip with NVLink and Three New Systems

September 8, 2016

Not long after revealing more details about its next-gen Power9 chip due in 2017, IBM today rolled out three new Power8-based Linux servers and a new version of its Power8 chip featuring Nvidia’s NVLink interconnect. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Vectors: How the Old Became New Again in Supercomputing

September 26, 2016

Vector instructions, once a powerful performance innovation of supercomputing in the 1970s and 1980s became an obsolete technology in the 1990s. But like the mythical phoenix bird, vector instructions have arisen from the ashes. Here is the history of a technology that went from new to old then back to new. Read more…

By Lynd Stringer

US, China Vie for Supercomputing Supremacy

November 14, 2016

The 48th edition of the TOP500 list is fresh off the presses and while there is no new number one system, as previously teased by China, there are a number of notable entrants from the US and around the world and significant trends to report on. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Silicon Photonics Chip, Previews Next-Gen Phi for AI

August 18, 2016

At the Intel Developer Forum, held in San Francisco this week, Intel Senior Vice President and General Manager Diane Bryant announced the launch of Intel's Silicon Photonics product line and teased a brand-new Phi product, codenamed "Knights Mill," aimed at machine learning workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Beyond von Neumann, Neuromorphic Computing Steadily Advances

March 21, 2016

Neuromorphic computing – brain inspired computing – has long been a tantalizing goal. The human brain does with around 20 watts what supercomputers do with megawatts. And power consumption isn’t the only difference. Fundamentally, brains ‘think differently’ than the von Neumann architecture-based computers. While neuromorphic computing progress has been intriguing, it has still not proven very practical. Read more…

By John Russell

Dell EMC Engineers Strategy to Democratize HPC

September 29, 2016

The freshly minted Dell EMC division of Dell Technologies is on a mission to take HPC mainstream with a strategy that hinges on engineered solutions, beginning with a focus on three industry verticals: manufacturing, research and life sciences. "Unlike traditional HPC where everybody bought parts, assembled parts and ran the workloads and did iterative engineering, we want folks to focus on time to innovation and let us worry about the infrastructure," said Jim Ganthier, senior vice president, validated solutions organization at Dell EMC Converged Platforms Solution Division. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Container App ‘Singularity’ Eases Scientific Computing

October 20, 2016

HPC container platform Singularity is just six months out from its 1.0 release but already is making inroads across the HPC research landscape. It's in use at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), where Singularity founder Gregory Kurtzer has worked in the High Performance Computing Services (HPCS) group for 16 years. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Micron, Intel Prepare to Launch 3D XPoint Memory

August 16, 2016

Micron Technology used last week’s Flash Memory Summit to roll out its new line of 3D XPoint memory technology jointly developed with Intel while demonstrating the technology in solid-state drives. Micron claimed its Quantx line delivers PCI Express (PCIe) SSD performance with read latencies at less than 10 microseconds and writes at less than 20 microseconds. Read more…

By George Leopold

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This