Office of Naval Research heeds lessons learned in latest move to cloud

Thursday - 8/14/2014, 4:16pm EDT

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The Office of Naval Research's first attempt to move to cloud computing about three years ago didn't end so well.

So as ONR tries to implement cloud computing a second time, it's taking a different approach.

Gary Wyckoff, the chief information officer of the Office of Naval Research, said ONR is both using a commercial cloud and an internal Navy provider. The different tactic and the maturity of the cloud market are among the reasons Wyckoff said ONR is much better positioned this time around.

The organization tried to move a software-on-demand model starting in 2008. But after about three years, ONR couldn't overcome several technical and cybersecurity issues that were less about the agency and more about the technology behind cloud computing.

Three years later, ONR is on the cusp of launching a pilot program putting its SharePoint and knowledge management site into the cloud, hosted by Amazon Web services.

Wyckoff said he expects to get the final approval from the Department of Defense CIO to issue a waiver so they can connect from the Defense Information Systems Agency to AWS.

A second project around the cloud is an internal effort with the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR). Wyckoff said ONR will no longer host its version of helpdesk software and buy similar services from SPAWAR.

"The helpdesk will still be run here, but the software tracking mechanisms, asset management, change management and all those things will be tracked there at SPAWAR," he said. "Currently, the data center runs here at our site and we run an instance of Remedy. The pricing we pay is a lot more per capita than we will when we go with the enterprise license, plus we will have more modules. It all goes together with our implementation of IT Information Library."

Wyckoff said ONR has an older version of Remedy and to upgrade would cost between $1 million and $2 million alone and then there are maintenance and other costs. He said ONR is buying the software-as-a-service from SPAWAR for about $800,000 a year.

Moving to SPAWAR as well lets ONR close one of its smaller data centers, currently running four servers.

Wyckoff said ONR is following the Department of Navy's lead to consolidate data centers in the 2016-17 timeframe.

He said a tiger team recently kicked off business case analysis effort to look at data center alternatives. The team will examine government and commercial possibilities.

"We did the same thing when we moved the SharePoint to AWS. We looked at several alternatives including the iNavy portal. If the Navy's goal is to be about 70 percent commercial, we've stepped out on the commercial side," he said. "I don't know where we will end up today. I know they are talking to several of the different vendors, Microsoft, Oracle. They are willing to host their products very easily, but it's when you bring the oddball software programs in there. We are a science and technology group and we do have some odd-duck software that may not play that well in the cloud and may not play well in anybody's cloud. We have to look at that and how that's going to affect what we do going forward."

Wyckoff said a key piece to the cloud is the security. He said with the SharePoint and knowledge management implementation on Amazon, ONR is encrypting data-at-rest and setting up secure tunnels to and from the cloud to go along with the use of public-key infrastructure technology through the Common Access Card smart identification card.

"Our security model says no user gets on without a CAC or token," he said. "Permissions are set individually going forward. We are going to host the computer network defense suite at ONR. We will set up the CAC access, the role based access so we will be the ones generating who has access to what."

While ONR is more comfortable with cloud computing, mobility remains a big challenge.

Wyckoff said he realizes ONR scientists, engineers and researchers are pushing to use smartphones and tablets, so he included mobility as a key part of his strategic plan.

ONR currently can use tablets and smartphones to connect to webmail, but employees can't get back to the network.

"One of the experimental areas we are doing down is to look at iPads and Windows tablets with a device called MobiKey. MobiKey is accepted by the Navy Marine Corps Intranet," Wyckoff said. "MobiKey will create a virtual desktop on your device and it will link back to your home desktop, so every service that is running on your desktop back at your headquarters will run on your portable device. You will be able to do what you need to do and it's self-contained and encrypted."