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Sunny future for cloud-hosted AF apps

When reading about government contracts for infrastructure, networks and software, it’s easy to get lost in the jargon. At the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., program managers ensure that Air Force customers get the digital capability they need by working with contractors to determine the appropriate type of service. Infrastructure, software and platform “as a service” are the three common types of cloud service contracts. Here’s an easy way to think about these digital service contracts.

When reading about government contracts for infrastructure, networks and software, it’s easy to get lost in the jargon. At the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., program managers ensure that Air Force customers get the digital capability they need by working with contractors to determine the appropriate type of service. Infrastructure, software and platform “as a service” are the three common types of cloud service contracts. Here’s an easy way to think about these digital service contracts. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Harland Robinson)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The Air Force Portal, popular among many other things for posting enlisted and officer promotion lists, has been hosted on the Amazon Web Service cloud since June 30.

Moving the portal onto the cloud is part of an ongoing effort by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center here to bring potentially hundreds of separate Air Force applications onto cloud-hosted platforms. The portal’s nearly three quarters of a million average users per month won’t see a break in service, but may notice increased reliability as the Air Force moves its software onto more modern hosting systems, provided by vendors like Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Computing Services and Amazon.

“The portal is a significant milestone for this effort,” said Maj. Ted Erickson, program manager for the cloud migration effort here. “But what we’re doing goes well beyond this one app. We’ve already moved six other apps onto the cloud, and we estimate dozens more out there are ready to go as well. We want people to bring us their applications so we can take them onto this new, better hosting system.”

AFLCMC paid the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA, $22,000 per month to host the portal. AWS’ cost will be approximately one-third of that. Shifting from DISA servers to large cloud hosting platforms like AWS and Azure removes the requirement for the government to operate and maintain enough servers for maximum traffic days, such as staff sergeant promotion release days.

“For the Portal, that’s Black Friday,” said Lee Hayes, a Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks program manager at Hanscom. “So, what we’re effectively doing is operating enough servers year-round at DISA to handle maximum traffic on that promotion day. That’s not efficient, and it’s certainly not what private sector companies with similar peak-demand days do. They just scale.”

Projected cost for this scalability is approximately $8,000 per month, and $98,000 annually. DISA’s annual cost was more than twice that, at more than $260,000. Cloud-hosted systems automatically sense when demand is high, and provide more capacity automatically. AWS only charges the government for increased capacity when it is demanded.

According to the program office, farming this work out to cloud vendors will save on more than just costs. The contract reduces infrastructure, power and personnel requirements at DISA, though until AFLCMC captures more applications, they will not know how much efficiency the Department of Defense will gain.