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DISA looks to offer multi-cloud capabilities at the tactical edge

The Defense Information Systems Agency has been a driving force in supporting the military’s efforts to enhance warfighting capabilities by hosting and leveraging cloud computing services. Those efforts lie at the heart of DISA’s broader strategic initiatives, outlined in the agency’s just-released 2025-2029 National Defense Strategy. Among other goals, DISA is working to operationalize its hybrid cloud environment further and expand capabilities to warfighters operating at the network edge.

Sharon Woods, who headed DISA’s J9 Hosting and Compute operations before being appointed to lead DISA’s J6 Endpoint and Global Services Directorate, shared her insights about the direction of the agency’s cloud efforts during a recent video panel interview for DefenseScoop.

One of the driving forces propelling DISA’s cloud efforts is the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) initiative. The initiative aims to increase cloud capabilities to support warfighters and their combatant commands by harnessing a combination of secure, DOD-authorized cloud services provided by four leading cloud providers: Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Oracle.

“One of our key philosophies is optionality for our customers and bringing to bear the best of what each of the cloud vendors has because they all have different strengths and weaknesses,” said Woods. A key focus of that effort involves bringing data applications closer to the user. She said that starts with reducing latency but also making access to and use of capabilities easier, with initiatives such as DOD Olympus.

“With DOD Olympus, we’re removing some of the burden — taking away some of those repetitive activities — and offering an environment so that a mission owner can just come in and put their application in there,” Wood said.

Scott Frohman, DOD Programs Lead with Google Public Sector, echoed Wood’s emphasis on making cloud services operate consistently across different environments.

“It’s really important that these services be the same whether you’re in a JWCC data center using Google services or you’re in an OCONUS cloud at a base — whether it’s stood up by a cloud service provider or by the government, or even at the edge on a tactical edge device,” he stressed.

He also made the case that the pace of innovation by cloud providers makes it all the more important for agencies like DISA to partner with industry leaders early in the development process.

“The [projects] that have been most successful are where the Department brings us in, consults with us early to understand some of the more complex topics that are more akin to industry and not necessarily warfighting,” he added.

Both Woods and Frohman acknowledged the challenges of bringing cloud capabilities where they’re needed, given the military’s remote and complex operating conditions.

“I think one of the biggest challenges is that there are all these different capabilities available,” Woods said. “You have private cloud, you have commercial cloud, you have edge compute — and a lot of customers are left with the question of, ‘Well, where do I start?’ There are all these different cloud environments. How do I get my application into that environment?”

That’s in part what’s driving the development of DOD Olympus, she said.

“When you have to put an application into the cloud, there are a bunch of things you have to do, no matter what network connectivity you have, to have remote management for your administrators. You have mission owners, especially smaller mission owners or mission owners that may not have a lot of cloud conversion [experience], and they have to figure all this out.”

She said DISA wants to remove that burden by setting up that platform for end users, both on a self-service and managed service basis. “That all goes back to optionality — of really being able to meet the customer where they are.”

Looking further ahead, Woods also discussed DISA’s focus on pushing cloud capabilities to the tactical edge through initiatives like the Joint Operational Edge Cloud (JOE Cloud), which leverages commercial cloud vendor technology in DISA data centers worldwide.

“One of the key things that it does is take the power of commercial cloud and bring it out to where the user is. So that the application and the data are closer to the user. It starts reducing latency. It improves the user experience. And it lets you capitalize on the power of the cloud,” she explained

Frohman, speaking more broadly, highlighted the need for openness and interoperability among cloud providers, especially for defense and civilian agencies operating globally, to ensure seamless integration, cross-platform security and system resilience.

“It’s important that we enable that interoperability using common standards, whether it’s container orchestration or a data format, or simply the architectural design of a mission system,” he said.

“The one challenge that I would say is important to solve is having a highly available infrastructure, one that’s produced by industry, so that the cost, availability, and performance are there with what commercial industry and consumers get. And one that’s consistent across form factors, and that works when persistently disconnected from the home base or from the commercial Internet, not one that has to phone home or has to be connected to some other system that’s truly survivable,” he said.

Listen to the full discussion and learn more about unleashing the power of edge computing.

This video panel discussion was produced by Scoop News Group for DefenseScoop and underwritten by Google for Government.