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DOD experts describe lessons learned when migrating applications to the cloud

Organizational culture is one of the most important things to focus on when moving traditionally hosted applications to a cloud hosting environment, said representatives from U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) during a panel discussion at the DISA Cloud Symposium in Baltimore May 16.

Air Force Lt. Col. Ross Morrell, chief of the Center of Cloud Excellence at TRANSCOM; Michelle Jacobs, director of the DISA Liaison and Hosting Office at DLA; and Steve Wallace, technical director for DISA’s Development and Business Center, shared a number of lessons learned with representatives from other DOD organizations in attendance.

Why they moved to the cloud

DLA began their “cloud journey” in 2012 and currently has more than 70 applications hosted in milCloud 1.0, uses a commercial cloud service provider, and also consumes two software-as-a-service applications.

“DLA’s whole perspective is ‘as a service,’” said Jacobs. “We want to get out of the infrastructure business altogether. We want to focus on building capabilities for our customers, not on infrastructure.”

TRANSCOM’s driver for migrating to the cloud environment was mission assurance.

“Our cloud journey has been about a year,” said Morrell. “We had a massive data center outage in January of 2017. Many of our critical applications were down for more than 72 hours. That’s was evident we had to take the next step.”

The combatant command now has 13 applications that have been migrated to the commercial cloud, and expects to migrate 12 more by the end of the month.

“We expect to have 70 applications in the cloud by the end of the year,” said Morrell. “Right now we have Impact Level 2, Impact Level 4, and Impact Level 5 environments, and we’re standing up an Impact Level 6 environment.”

In TRANSCOM’s case, the decision to move mission critical applications to the cloud was made by the commander himself. The combatant commander stood up a Cloud Center of Excellence made up of representatives from across the command, including the J6, members of the acquisition community, financial analysts, and individuals from the functional components.

“Executive sponsorship is critical,” said Morrell. “It’s probably the most critical thing in order for you to succeed.”  

The significance of organizational culture

All three panel members agreed influencing organizational culture was one of the most important factors during the migration. They emphasized the need to approach cloud with the right mindset and to educate stakeholders.

“I’m not a fan of the word ‘cloud,’” said DISA’s Wallace. “The reason I’m not a fan is because it makes it sound too simple. And it’s not. Done right, it’s a dramatic cultural shift across the board.”

Morrell agreed, and said the cultural mind shift needs to reflect the idea, “Cloud is nothing more than an enabler to deliver outputs. It is not an outcome in and of itself.”

Another cultural barrier is the desire for ownership.

“People don’t like to move into a shared environment. Nobody wants to share,” said Jacobs. “We’re all DLA. We need to share to gain efficiencies and shrink the price.”

Wallace drew a parallel between the adoption of cloud services and the adoption of DOD Enterprise Email several years ago, a service many organizations were opposed to, but now could not imagine having to do themselves.

“There was a lot of ownership and pride in the beige boxes that sat in people’s data centers. But as we migrated those organizations onto the enterprise email platform, life got a lot easier for them. They were able to concentrate on their core competencies.”

In an effort to address the cultural issues, TRANSCOM dedicated a significant effort toward educating stakeholders at all levels.

“We brought our acquisition community early on to help us drive the messaging back to the program management community, to say, “We [through cloud computing] can help you manage your programs and run your programs better, not just by lifting and shifting to the cloud, but by changing the way you deliver capability,” said Morrell.

“We [also] worked with our public affairs team to create a communications strategy. We had to get out to the broader command and give them the answers to the questions: What does this mean to me? Why is this good for me? And how does it fit into my day-to-day activities?” he said. The teams worked together to produce articles, conduct training sessions, and post educational videos online.

Jacobs said one of the things DLA “didn’t focus on as much as we should have initially” is communicating what the adoption of cloud computing means to the workforce, especially to those in data centers.

“As we have successfully moved so many things out of our internal data centers – we’ve closed eight to date and will close five more this year – we need to provide the education and training for the workforce to help them understand ‘What does this mean to me?” That needs to involve not only the J6, but also human resources. If we’re moving to a service model, what’s the workforce we are looking for?”

Technical lessons learned

Morrell said TRANSCOM came up with three design patterns when analyzing their applications and assessing migration options:

  • A traditional “lift and shift” re-hosting from a legacy computing environment to a cloud environment. Approximately 15 percent of their mission critical applications fell in this category.
  • Refactoring some components of an application to take advantage of the automation native to the cloud environment (e.g., identity management). “The ability to gracefully failover was a huge factor for us,” he said. Approximately 70 percent of applications required refactoring for cloud optimization.
  • Redeveloping applications entirely. Approximately 15 percent of TRANSCOM’s application portfolio needed to be completely redesigned for the cloud environment, said Morrell.

“TRANSCOM is taking an approach, it is not ‘the’ approach. There are other ways,” he said.

Morrell also said use of DISA’s Cloud Access Points has not created a barrier to TRANSCOM’s success.

The process to connect to the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) and understanding the need for managed services were the two most significant lessons learned for DLA.

“The biggest part we struggled with was connecting our networks to the DISN,” said Jacobs. “The biggest lesson we learned is that when folks talk about going to the cloud, we talk about it from an application perspective. We really have to build up all the managed services that the applications require.”

She said DLA had to stand up more than 14 managed services in milCloud 1.0 to operate all of their applications.

The biggest negative to using Infrastructure-as-a-Service is to establish the managed services required for the application to operate, she said. For that reason, DLA is shifting to Platform-as-a-Service as their standard for moving to the cloud.

Measuring success

Morrell said TRANSCOM’s initial metric for success what how many applications has been migrated to the cloud, but the organization soon realized that was the wrong approach. 

“Success factors to me are: What value are we creating for the organization as we’re migrating into the cloud? What services are we taking advantage of as we’re migrating applications in?”

“Things like reliability of an application and taking advantage of the automation components of the cloud are probably a better measure of success than “Hey, I just moved this application from A to B,” he said.



Posted May 16, 2018