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DoD Cloud Innovation: Research on Cloudlets

The Department of Defense’s efforts to utilize commercial cloud solutions over the last few years have received a decent amount of attention in the trade press and on the conference circuit.  The reporting tends to evaluate the DoD’s use (or non-use, as the case may be) of the cloud from the perspective of a standard commercial business use-case, meaning DoD customers are expected to either identify applications to migrate, solicit the work, and migrate the app to a commercial hosting solution, or to purchase a capability as a service from a commercial provider.  It is against these standard approaches to cloud computing that the DoD’s efforts have been judged.  Cloud innovation at the DoD, however, is often more diverse and exploratory than industry is led to believe.  This and next week’s posts will examine two examples of innovative cloud use in the DoD in an effort to show that there can be business opportunities for vendors beyond the threshold of “ordinary” use-case expectations.

Mobile Cloudlets

The first area of innovation is in mobile cloudlets.  What’s a mobile cloudlet?  Good question.  Cloudlets are an approach to cloud computing in connection-challenged environments that is being pioneered by researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute.  As explained by Grace Lewis, a Senior Member of the Technical Staff at the SEI, “cloudlets … are lightweight servers running one or more virtual machines [that] allow soldiers in the field to offload resource-consumptive and battery-draining computations from their handheld devices to nearby cloudlets. This architecture decreases latency by using a single-hop network and potentially lowers battery consumption by using WiFi instead of broadband wireless.”  This approach, which takes advantage of both cloud computing and mobile technology, provides mission capabilities more effectively to military personnel, and, potentially, law enforcement and first responders, in difficult environments where connectivity may be lacking.

Research on cloudlets in the DoD is currently focused in a couple of different areas.  The first of these is funding for work at the SEI, which I won’t go into here because of the limited addressability of these dollars.  The second area is research being performed at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) related to Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks, or MANETs.  Specifically, in FY 2015, the ARL has requested $6.1 million for the Information Protection for Mobile Ad-Hoc Networks project.  The goal of this project as it relates to cloudlets is to “develop security protocols and processes for using tactical cloudlets as a shared resource among Warfighters and coalition forces.”  In addition, the ARL has also requested $1 million for the Mobile Network Modeling Institute to examine the “impact of clouds and local tactical cloudlets on network behaviors.”  The final effort worth noting is the Heterogeneous Computing and Computational Sciences project.  For this work, the ARL has requested $1.67 million to “create new models to describe offered load and computational capacity within cloudlet-based services in Army-centric mobile and ad hoc networked technologies.”

There is of course no guarantee that any of this money ever materializes into a contract.  What’s important to remember in this context is the direction of the DoD’s efforts and the potential impact this could have on future business opportunities.  As the DoD’s use of cloudlet-based approaches evolves, it can translate into benefits for those who have positioned themselves to offer solutions that can operate in a cloudlet.  This means potential opportunity down the road for software development and mobile application vendors.  The winds are blowing toward cloudlets in connectivity-challenged environments, suggesting that those who tack into this wind will find interested customers in the DoD.


Where DME Dollars are Going in FY 2015 Defense-Wide IT Funding

In last week’s post, I provided an analysis of “net new” IT funding in the Army’s budget request for fiscal year 2015.  This week’s post shifts the perspective a bit to take a look at IT development, modernization, and enhancement (DME) funding in the Defense Agencies for FY 2015.  Net new funding, defined as DME dollars slated in FY 2015 for programs that received zero total dollars in FY 2014, will not be part of the equation this week for the simple reason that there is none.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Defense Agencies will have $0 in net new IT funding in FY 2015, making it critical that vendors focus business development efforts on existing Defense-Wide programs receiving DME and/or operations and maintenance dollars.

Top Ten Defense-Wide Programs Receiving DME Funding

DME funding for the top ten Defense-Wide programs in FY 2015 totals $673 million, up $144 million from total DME funding in FY 2014 of $529 million for these same programs.  Looking at the list, it is clear that DoD intends to fund the following priorities:

  • Health IT/Defense Health Modernization
  • Joint Information Environment (JIE)
  • Command and Control
  • Financial Management/ERP

Health IT/Defense Health Modernization

The presence of three major health IT initiatives sticks out prominently.  Funding for the DoD Healthcare Management System Modernization probably reflects the fact that the government anticipates it will make an award for the DHMSM effort at least partway through FY 2015.  Curiously, the Integrated Electronic Health Record Increment 1 effort, now called the Defense Medical Information Exchange (DMIX), anticipates receiving $82 million in DME funding despite the fact that the DoD expects the program will enter sustainment by FY 2015.  The $53 million requested for the second increment of the Theater Medical Information Program (TMIP) will fund a host of installation, integration, and testing efforts.

Joint Information Environment (JIE)

Another program in the top ten list is the Defense Information System Network (DISN), with $104 million in requested FY 2015 DME funding.  As the DoD’s primary transport network, the DISN is central to standing up the Joint Information Environment.  Activities to be funded in FY 2015 include the ongoing refresh of network hardware to enable Internet Protocol-based communications, additional network testing, and a focus on expanding the classified optical transport network and classified unified capabilities in the area of responsibility of U.S. Pacific Command.  Similarly, the activities of the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) are increasingly important for the future success of the JIE.  The JITC is the DoD’s command organization responsible for certifying interoperability across components, making its efforts central to the effective operation of the JIE.  Funding for the JITC will be down in FY 2015, in part because of delays in the evolution of testing and evaluation methodology for the JIE.  Lastly, the DoD CIO Programs line is also focused heavily on developing the policy framework for supporting the JIE, including expanding the use of advanced analytics and cloud computing.

Command and Control

Three areas of investment make up funding for command and control.  The first is C4IAS, for which $40 million has been requested.  Funding for C4IAS reflects an ongoing shift at the DoD toward a greater reliance on Special Operations Forces globally.  The investment provides command and control and information sharing capabilities from the garrison to tactical environments by incorporating local and wide area networks into a unified enterprise network.  Requested funding for the Global Command and Control System – Joint comes in slightly under that for C4IAS at $39 million.  GCCS-J is an older system currently in sustainment.  However, it is also being modernized to enable greater use by the joint force.  Investment in GCCS-J illustrates the increasing importance the DoD is placing on joint operations.  Similarly, funding for the Teleport Generation 3 investment is joint-focused, “replacing obsolete and end of life equipment with new, more capable equipment that supports [greater] throughput requirements” for a network-enabled force.

Financial Management/ERP

The final investment rounding out the top ten is the second increment of the Defense Agencies Initiative.  Funding for the DAI indicates DoD’s ongoing drive to achieve a clean audit by FY 2017.  This is a program driven by Congressional mandate, signifying to vendors the importance of knowing how legislative requirements can translate into Defense spending.  In the current environment knowing these requirements is about as close to a sure thing as anyone can ask for.




DoD’s Focus on Unmanned Systems Benefits Big Data Providers

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel got a jump on the budget season recently by outlining cuts that will be made to the Department of Defense’s budget request for fiscal 2015.  From the content of Hagel’s remarks it’s easy to conclude that no part of defense spending will be spared the budget axe.  Indeed, the doom and gloom surrounding the DoD’s FY 2015 budget has been a constant theme in the press since the Secretary’s presentation.  Lost in the noise, however, is the fact that Hagel indicated an area of technology spending that would not suffer as badly - intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR).  At the risk of stating the obvious, the shrinking ranks of military personnel should force an increase in the use of technology solutions to fulfill the DoD’s mission.  The question is where will the dollars flow once the budget has been approved?

Unmanned Systems

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is on record as being a big supporter of unmanned systems.  To quote comments he made back in 2012 at the Joint Warfighting Conference and Exposition: “Unmanned technologies are on the rise, and they’re gaining importance not only in terms of effectiveness, but also in terms of their versatility and value.  In an era of fiscal constraint … a platform that offers those traits will almost always be the right one in which to invest.”  Taking direction from this, it’s logical to assume that the DoD’s investment in unmanned systems will continue to be strong.  It may not rise by much, but in today’s environment flat is the new up.

The DoD’s Unmanned Systems Roadmap, published in 2011, offers some guidance on where DoD investment might go.  According to the Roadmap, spending to develop and acquire unmanned capabilities was expected to total $36.4 billion through fiscal 2016.  Although these forecast totals have come down somewhat in the years since 2011, DoD requests for funding related to unmanned systems have still remained north of $6 billion per year, illustrating the importance the department places on this technology area.

The DoD anticipated spending 85% of its ISR investment dollars on air systems, 14% on ground systems, and 1% on maritime systems.  Recent developments reinforce the fact that these priorities remain intact.  For example, in late 2013 the Air Force ISR Agency issued a new strategic plan that outlined the need for a shift in spending from unmanned ISR assets capable of operating in “permissive” environments to those that can operate in contested ones.  The Marines are also interested in unmanned systems, piloting a new unmanned Mobile Detection Assessment Response System (MDARS) in Afghanistan.  Capable of patrolling an area up to one-mile away, MDARS is capable of doing intelligence gathering duties the Marines won’t have the personnel to perform.

Implications for IT Providers

Where does this focus on unmanned ISR leave information technology providers?  In the cat-bird seat, to be honest.  The massive amount of data that unmanned systems generate has a significant knock-on effect for Defense IT spending.  So much data is produced so quickly that human beings cannot make sense out of it and yet the DoD wants to make data driven decisions.  The need to make sense out of the data automatically generates requirements for more and better storage solutions, as well as database software and advanced analytics.  Also, as the DoD seeks ways to utilize satellite-based electromagnetic bandwidth to transfer the data, its need for advanced data management products and services will only grow.

In sum, the DoD’s turn toward unmanned systems is a boon for IT providers, especially those that offer big data solutions.  Deltek recently forecast in its Defense IT: Strategy, Implementation and Challenges report that the DoD’s addressable core big data market will rise from an estimated $670 million in FY 2013 to $880 million in FY 2018.  This equates to a CAGR of 5.6%.  So, while the Defense budget may be dropping overall, there are areas of opportunity for those properly positioned to take advantage of the market and technology trends.  Big data solutions related to ISR data collected from unmanned systems is one of those growth areas.