How EITaaS Puts DOD Cloud Services on the Same Page
The Army and Air Force are looking to unified cloud services to break down silos, streamline data and deliver more effectively on the mission.
If you ask any large enterprise what’s putting a damper on their ability to process and share information, many will point to data silos as the largest offender. The Department of Defense has found, like enterprises everywhere, that adopting cloud can eliminate many of these on-premises silos.
The issue, however, is that cloud services can result in silos of their own. With as-a-service operations for networking and desktop support deployed separately, it can hinder the speed, efficiency, information sharing and security the DOD needs as it strives to support anytime, anywhere, any-device access for an increasingly mobile workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded these challenges, with widespread telework and virtual meetings adding to the connectivity and security concerns that come with a more remote and disparate workforce.
Those are among some of the reasons that two military services within the Defense Department are implementing Enterprise IT as a Service pilot programs, which aim to arm the military with unified cloud services.
The Army is piloting an EITaaS model that will be deployed at nine locations over the course of about three years, with the goal to “increase mission effectiveness, increase IT user efficiencies and establish standardized, innovative IT services,” according to the Statement of Objectives for the project. By consolidating services through a single provider, EITaaS can better enable cloud adoption and the integration of new technologies, while improving the user experience for personnel all the way out to the edge of DOD deployments. Along with the Air Force, which also is piloting EITaaS, the Army is testing the feasibility of using a commercial provider to not only improve services but to allow its own IT personnel to focus on mission-critical activities rather than managing email servers or desktop support.
EITaaS combines three major areas of IT that currently are handled separately — Network-as-a-Service, End User Services, and Compute and Storage — each of which covers essential components for military operations. Together, they can also enable cross functionality among the services and other components that the DOD requires as a part of joint operations.
Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) allows organizations to outsource parts of their infrastructure to a virtual environment, allowing for greater flexibility and dynamic service, but it also can create siloed operations in different parts of the network. This affects performance and network security, said Verizon Principal Architect Eric Hardie, one of three contractors working with the Army on its pilot program.
“Performance issues always turn into one organization not sure of who’s responsible for performance degradation,” Hardie said. “The same thing applies to troubleshooting.” If a connectivity problem exists across two or four organization boundaries, it creates a challenge pinpointing where the problems are.
EITaaS eliminates those kinds of IT inefficiencies by putting services into one basket.
“A big benefit of the whole EITaaS model is that they can consolidate who’s providing the service, and they can consolidate what they’re asking the service provider to give them,” rather than having separate agreements scattered across different devices and services, he said.
It allows the DOD to approach networking from the perspective of the warfighters, said Verizon Enterprise Architect Chris Everich.
“The warfighter doesn’t care where he or she logs into,” he said. “What they want is access to the service where they need it, when they need it, with high performance and high reliability.” And it also gives the Army greater control of their services through service level agreements (SLAs).
A consolidated environment enables greater efficiencies and data sharing across the enterprise, while providing the foundation for the DOD to incorporate new capabilities provided by emerging technologies such as 5G, and the ability to tap into the distributed potential of the Internet of Things.
Identity Is Everything
The whole point of mission effectiveness is lost if users, such as military commanders, can’t get into the network in a timely fashion. In some instances, personnel at bases could take as much as 20 minutes to log onto the system, noted Anita Stanton, Verizon’s Senior Client Executive for the Army.
“Personnel on the move, individuals or entire units may have a similar experience when they travel from site to site. It’s not a simple thing to log into a new environment with a government-furnished laptop and plug into the local network to receive services,” Hardie said. Logging in requires getting approval to connect to the network, followed by administrators setting up access requirements to allow a user to connect any time from anywhere. It’s a time-consuming series of procedures, often done manually, and could be particularly risky in a deployed environment where fast action is required.
With EITaaS, Verizon helped to automate such process, which can help to greatly increase speed, while enabling more efficient and secure Identity, Credential and Access Management (ICAM) — something the DOD is developing while working toward a Zero Trust Architecture. “The identity solution allows them to validate who they are and what they have access to,” Hardie said. “Where they are located in the network is not really relevant. It’s only relevant who they are, what their mission is and what they do.”
An identity-based solution also allows an organization to better accommodate the growing amount of remote work resulting from the global pandemic, which has prompted the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to adopt a zero trust approach in order to protect its networks.
By unifying networking and end user services with compute and storage platforms, EITaaS also bolsters security — the top priority for any DOD system.
“The DOD has already moved to a very complex private cloud solution, with varying security levels,” Hardie said. “What we’re building is a solution that is considered Impact Level 5,” on DISA’s Cloud Computing Security Requirements Guide.
By consolidating those Lines of Effort (LOEs)— networking, under services, and compute and storage—into a single architecture, EITaaS also enables cross functionality among the military services and other components. “If the Air Force and Army want to collaborate, that’s based on their identity,” Hardie said. Separate systems for separate services are no longer necessary.
“Security just becomes an integral part of EITaaS,” Everich said.
The DOD’s effort toward digital modernization rides on the cloud, and its success depends on systems within the cloud working together. Partnering with a commercial provider for EITaaS can help enable that, but that, too, involves working together.
“It has to be a close partnership,” Hardie said. “We’re really learning as we go.”
Under the old model, five-year tech refreshes may have brought it new technologies, but the network stayed essentially the same.
“This is an entirely different approach, where they’re letting go of a lot of controls they have internally and allowing us, as a commercial company, to provide them with real commercial innovation,” he said. “But they’re still the Army, they have a mission. So, it’s a real partnership.”
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