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February 9, 2011

Defense Information Systems Agency Marks Virtualization Milestones

Nicole Hemsoth

The American Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has set bold virtualization goals and in doing so, has provided a valuable cloud case study for other government agencies.

DISA CIO, Henry Sienkiewicz, recently discussed some of the challenges and benefits of the agency’s virtualization efforts in an interview and provided a snapshot of current developments.

Sienkiewicz noted that the agency is making a fair amount of progress toward its goals of mass virtualization, estimating that while one year ago DISA was between 15 and 20 percent virtualized, this year the figure is more in the 40 percent range of the production environment.

While he admits that there are still opportunities for optimization, there are certain mission-critical applications, including command and control systems and PKI, that are not ripe for virtualized environments. The agency is now going through the ranks of applications and evaluating which can and cannot be virtualized. His guess is that at the end of that narrowing-down process, “except for a few outliers, we will be very much a completely virtualized organization by the end of the year.”

The CIO gave his opinion on efficiency via virtualization at length and touched lightly on a few security and access-related points, but one of the more interesting statements was his suggestion that once the agency was able to step back and look objectively at years of technological investment, it was hard initially to conceive of new models.

In Sienkiewicz’s words, “look at how DISA provisions servers inside the datacenters, we buy them as capacity services. They are no longer hard assets on our books. I think we all struggled with the idea of how long it has taken to birth some of these things. But when we look at the complexity of what we’re trying to solve—from the technologies, constituencies and security—you realize there is no silver bullet.”

DISA’s CIO addressed a concern that is often expressed in conversations although not so readily in the copious literature on clouds—that one of the barriers to adoption is simply based on the investment in IT systems. While Sienkiewicz’s statement is admittedly open to interpretation, cloud computing indeed requires a cultural change within an organization. This big point hidden in a small section is worth of volumes worth of debate for government and private organizations alike. 

Full story at DefenseSystems

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