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Pentagon Closing Data Centers Amid Transition To Cloud

The U.S. Department of Defense has shuttered dozens of data centers as part of the military’s transition to the cloud, with more closures to come.

The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia

As part of a  digital transformation effort launched in 2018, the Pentagon has closed 60 data centers and migrated almost 1,000 IT systems to cloud-based platforms, FedTech reports.

Ultimately, the department will operate little of its own IT infrastructure, instead purchasing it as a service from private providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft.  According to a DoD spokesperson, the transition is already 80% complete and is due to wrap up by early next year. 

“The DoD warfighter requires a rapidly scalable information environment that transforms data into actionable information quickly and efficiently,” said Danielle Metz, the Pentagon’s deputy chief information officer for information enterprise. Metz, speaking at a virtual conference in August, added that the department’s in-house IT infrastructure lacked these capabilities. 

The Pentagon concluded in 2018 that operating IT infrastructure in-house left it unable to effectively keep up with changing technology or to scale up capacity to meet digital transformation goals. The shortcomings of the military’s outdated digital infrastructure were particularly pronounced as frontline operations increasingly rely on high-performance, low latency computing for everything from drone operations to providing soldiers with battlefield information in real time.

Pentagon officials say the transition to the cloud will give the various arms of the military — known as Defense Agencies and Field Activities, or DAFAs — greater access to high-performance computing and data management and flexibility to innovate.  

“The DAFAs now have the ability to leverage modern compute and storage capabilities, and build native apps in the cloud, neither of which were accessible to them — they were bound to their physical data centers,” Metz said.

The Pentagon’s transformation efforts have not gone entirely smoothly. Officials say the closure of six data centers was delayed due to litigation over the now-canceled Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure initiative, a $10B cloud services contract awarded to Microsoft that was scrapped after legal challenges from AWS and Oracle. The contract is being restructured as the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability contract, which Metz said will be awarded in the next nine months. 

The military’s move toward the cloud is part of a broader trend of digital transformation across the federal government, from the Internal Revenue Service to intelligence agencies. Major cloud providers like Microsoft and AWS have launched cloud platforms like Microsoft’s Azure Government and Azure Government Secret specifically designed for the federal government.

Federal digital transformation has been a significant driver of data center development in certain parts of the country. In its most recent data center trends report, CBRE noted that the increased need for data center capacity by the federal government in the first half of 2021 was a direct contributor to the growth of colocation and cloud requirements across several markets, from northern Virginia to Denver and Phoenix.