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US Army Drafts IBM for Private Cloud

Scott Ferguson

The United States Army has recruited IBM to build a new, secure private cloud at one of its main missile testing and deployment arsenals. Big Blue will also offer other security and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) help as part of the five-year agreement.

IBM will build the private cloud for the Army's Redstone Arsenal, which is located near Huntsville, Ala. The arsenal sits on more than 38,000 acres and is home to more than 35,000 workers, including active-duty soldiers and civilians.

The contract, which IBM and the Army announced Wednesday, is a one-year deal to build a private cloud for the arsenal, with an option to renew the deal once a year over the course of four years. If the Army opts for the full five years, the contract will be worth about $62 million to IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM).

In addition to building the private cloud, and offering IaaS and other services, IBM will assist the Army in moving about 35 different applications to the cloud during the first year of the contract.

In an email interview, Sam Gordy, the general manager of IBM US Federal, wrote that the private cloud will be built using some of the Army's equipment already located at the arsenal. After that, the Army can draw from different IBM services.

"The physical data center will be based on these servers and systems and positioned in a specific location at the facility, from which the Army will be able to procure and provision IaaS and SaaS services from IBM," Gordy wrote.

The reason for the Army moving some of its data and applications to the cloud reflects many of the same concerns as any enterprise, including modernization, security and ability to deploy compute power and applications easier.

"With this project, we're beginning to bring the IT infrastructure of the U.S. Army into the 21st century," Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, US Army CIO, said in a statement announcing the deal. "Cloud computing is a game-changing architecture that provides improved performance with high efficiency, all in a secure environment."

A recent report from IDC found that spending on cloud infrastructure is on the increase, with companies planning to shell out more than $44 billion in 2017. While private cloud, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, is gaining the most, private cloud projects are also on the upswing. (See Cisco Gains, Dell & HPE Lose on Cloud Infrastructure - Analyst)

While it's hard to compare enterprise cloud needs to the specifics required by government agencies, such as the US Department of Defense, Gordy said that IBM does draw on some of its private-sector experience.

"The Army’s (and indeed, all of DoD's) requirements and challenges are unique, especially with respect to security," Gordy said. "However, much of what IBM does in the commercial sphere -- from cloud, to cybersecurity, to cognitive services -- has applications across the federal government, which includes DoD and the armed services."

The project also requires a high level of security to handle the information and data that is moving to the new private cloud. Specifically, the deal requires IBM to have what the Army calls Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Impact Level 5 (IL-5) Provisional Authorization, which will allow IBM and its employees working on the cloud project to manage and control unclassified information.

Later, the Army will require the next level of security, DISA IL-6, which will allow IBM to handle data deemed "secret." IBM already has the DISA IL-5 certification and if the deal is extended, the company will get the DISA IL-6 certification.

IBM already has several deals with the US military for building different clouds, as well as offering cloud-based services. In 2015, the Army and IBM signed a deal for a hybrid cloud plan that allowed the Army to connect its Logistics Support Activity data to IBM's own cloud for additional scalability.

In his email, Gordy cited this deal, along with other work the company has performed for the US Navy, as one of the factors in signing the contract. "These two factors represented significant risk reductions to the Army as it takes further advantage of commercial cloud capabilities," he said.

— Scott Ferguson, Editor, Enterprise Cloud. Follow him on Twitter @zdeferguson.

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