DoD developing apps store; DISA rolls out RACE

The Federal Cloud Blog just spoke with Henry Sienkiewicz, Technical Program Director for DISA’s Computing Services Directorate, who told us all about how DISA is moving into the cloud with its Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE) . . . and about the fact that the Defense Department plans to launch an apps store of its own!

Listen to Henry Sienkiewicz talking with FCB

Federal Cloud Blog: This platform that you’re building. So, you’re in DoD and you want to try something. Walk us through the steps [and] how this works.

Henry Sienkiewicz: It’s actually very straightforward. We model the portal as if we were a commercial hosting site. So, under, at the very top of the homepage right now, you’ll see the RACE logo. Or you can go through the computing services page on the side of the DISA portal to get to the RACE environment. You just literally log on there. You have to use your CAC card. . . . You log onto the portal and you just sign yourself up. You can pick and choose a variety of options. While we’ve tried to highly standardize the environment, we recognize that some users will need more computing, some will need more storage, so we’ve given them a mix-and-match portfolio to be able to pick a variety of options, although we’ve tried to keep it standardized with a LAMP stack as well as a Windows stack.

FCB: It seems like, in some ways, you may actually be able to improve the security levels of what most servers [have] because this is something you guys focus on all the time.

HS: That’s absolutely correct, although . . . one of the other neat pieces of the portal is that we actually are able to take a NIPR, which is the way we transfer money inside the department, or a government credit card online. We launched that, actually, in October of last year and it was one of those things that took a great deal of time and effort from the rest of the team — to figure out how to do — and our friends at Treasury helped us with the process. But it was a great success story on — how do we actually allow people to have that flexibility to order as they need it [while] making sure the money trail is completely and totally followed properly? We can spin up on virtual operating environments as fast as everyone else. 23 plus of those hours from our test and development environment — I’m able to provison right now in 24 hours — [and] 23 plus of those hours is actually moving the money. So, for us it’s been a great story.

FCB: You’ve been in development and you’ve been testing. What are some of the lessons that you learned from the test platform that actually ended up going into the live platform?

HS: We actually were able to use almost all of the code, all of the process, all of the procedures. When we thought it out at the very beginning, we established a very solid baseline at that point in time. Over the course of the last year, we’ve added additional options. We’ve done incremental releases, so we’re not believers in a big bang release of just one major code release a year.

FCB: And that is something particular with cloud computing. It gives you that ability to do that — and it makes those kind of iterative releases [easier]. It doesn’t become the ordeal that it could be.

HS: By keeping it standardized underneath the covers, we’re able to gradually and gracefully release and bring the customer base along with us, as opposed to forcing them to do massive migrations all at once, we’re able to go there and gradually allow them the ability to keep moving forward.

FCB: Is this something that would be available through the Apps store, even thought [it is] seen as largely commercial products?

HS: We are not going to put it as part of the GSA apps store. We’re going to be working with the DoD CIO as they’re developing an application store, as well. So we’re going to be folding our efforts in there; however, the team that has worked on the GSA apps store and my team have been actively engaged and participating in a lot of the same venues and a lot of the same conferences and we are more than willing to share what we have done with the rest of the federal community. My boss . . . and I are routinely talking, both in public forums, as well as in government forums, on these very topics. Our team is routinely interacting outside the agency and across the department with other people who are trying to establish the exact same thing.

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