Increased data optimization is driving the migration of the Navy and Marine Corps’ systems and applications to the commercial cloud rather than cutting costs, in a process that is slowing down until both military departments gain full organizational competency for the transition.

Marine Corps Chief Technology Advisor Daniel Corbin and Director of the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS) Dan DelGrosso spoke at an FCW cloud computing event on Wednesday and both reaffirmed their organizations’ commitment to the cloud but cautioned against moving too quickly before all budgetary and organizational decisions are made.

U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters Chief Technology Advisor Daniel P. Corbin. Photo: USMC.
U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters Chief Technology Advisor Daniel P. Corbin. Photo: USMC.

“The Marine Corps is certainly not as far ahead as some of the federal agencies and probably even some of the other organizations within the DoD. The Navy is ahead of us. The Air Force is ahead of us. We’re learning our way,” said Corbin. “I generally tell our folks, ‘it’s we don’t have a good cloud competency.’”

Corbin is pushing for full transparency from potential commercial cloud providers before transitioning the Marine Corps’ critical applications to a new system. From a leadership perspective, Corbin is pushing his entire organization to grasp all aspects of a potential cloud migration before making the move.

“When we’ve had recent discussions about what can we see, what will you allow us to see, are you going to let us see all of those CSSP (cyber security service provider) functions once we’re actually in the cloud. And they say ‘In some cases, we’re not going to let you look around in there,’” said Corbin. “So there’s all of these balancing things that we have to consider, that we haven’t quite figured out. The only real policy that’s been figured out is find a way to get into the cloud.”

Speaking to a crowd of cloud industry representatives, Corbin and DelGrosso spoke on the role strong industry partnerships can play in addressing the cloud competency of the Navy and Marine Corps.

The Navy spending time building its own boundary protection for Level 4 data handled in the cloud is counter productive, according to DelGrosso, who presented a five-year plan to Navy leadership in July a for full commercial cloud migration.

“We’re working with industry and our big cloud service providers on how the boundary can be protected in a virtualized sense, so that we’re not doing the infrastructure. We’re relying on industry to help make that happen.”

Corbin echoed the effort to reach out to industry to shoulder the burden of creating solutions for migrating applications to the commercial cloud in areas where Marine Corps leadership may be behind.

“If the big industry guys can solve it, it’ll be much easier than if we’re trying to solve it ourselves. You know, we go to some small vendor that gives a best value contract and he then goes off and gets a proprietary solution that becomes challenging for us. That’s not what we want. We need industry to solve this for us,” said Corbin.

For both the Navy and Marine Corps, the move to the commercial cloud is not necessarily about cutting costs but about leveraging data optimization and eliminating disparate networks.

The Navy is treating the cloud migration as a warfare platform update, according to DelGrosso. Leadership isn’t viewing the move as a means for growing data analytics, leveraging artificial intelligence and gaining greater command and control of its information.

“Cost is a false assumption. Anyone who is moving or migrating to the cloud for the sake of saving money I think is setting themselves up for failure,” said DelGrosso. “The Navy doesn’t build warships to save money. We build warships for worldwide deterrence and to defend against our country if necessary. Going to the cloud is kind of the same thing.”

Corbin questioned just how significant savings from the cloud would be in a few years when factoring in the training and hiring of data strategists during the transition, but recognized it as necessary for continued data optimization.

“I think a lot of the DoD folks have kind of stepped away from the idea that maybe there’s not cost savings there, but I’m not so certain. I’m not so certain over the long haul if there isn’t cost savings there. But I think we don’t really know the whole cost of what it takes to get into the cloud.”

The Marine Corps is currently in the process of answering all questions on potential payment models and organizational structures to need to complete the move to the commercial cloud. The Navy is working with all of its application systems owners and managers to iron out all budget needs for the migration, and in FY ‘19 will switch to a fee-for-service model to ensure its managers acquire the proper funding to move their data.

“The message to the entire fleet, afloat and ashore, is you will go to cloud. We made it a five-year plan to migrate all the Navy’s data to the commercial cloud with the understanding that anything that can go to the cloud will go to the cloud.”