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Army harnesses cloud for learning

Jun. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By AMBER CORRIN   |   Comments
Army Command and General Staff College serves more than 18,000 students and faculty through a commercial cloud solution.
Army Command and General Staff College serves more than 18,000 students and faculty through a commercial cloud solution. (Keith Desbois/U.S. Army)

Efforts to take advantage of cloud technology are underway across the government, in various stages of maturity, with promises of savings and efficiencies serving as a major boon. In the Army, one organization has successfully moved its most critical mission to a commercial cloud, improving operational effectiveness significantly.

At the Army Command and General Staff College, access to educational materials through a dot-mil network faced snags in network outages, the growing need to access curriculum by mobile devices and students’ lack of common access cards that grant Defense Department network access. It’s been almost three years since the initial push to move to a commercial cloud, and officials faced plenty of hurdles along the way, but today the CGSC is serving more than 18,000 students and faculty via a commercial cloud solution.

“We have a very unique perspective on information; we’re a cross domain of military and academia,” said Lt. Col. Ben Ring, chief of instructional systems at CGSC. “We have competing demands ... by trade we’re a military organization and we have to abide by military regulations and security procedures, even though the information we may process is not all national security information. On the other side is this info accessibility demand, the desire to share and publish and collaborate with our peers.”

CGSC’s specific mission made the organization a strong candidate for commercial cloud, in this case provided by Blackboard Inc., which provides learning management services. The college’s move to cloud also was bolstered by evolving federal standards aimed at government use of cloud.

“In July 2012 DoD established their cloud computing strategy that was right in line with us trying to implement the Army learning model 2015, making education more accessible,” said Cheryl Bester, deputy G6 combined arms command leader of development and education at CGSC. “The cloud-first strategy also allowed us to resolve other issues besides accessibility,” including requirements for data center consolidation plans and savings on hardware, procurement, personnel, labor and other unexpected areas.

Not that there weren’t challenges: The CGSC team struggled with technical integration, leadership buy-in and slow policy changes, among other issues, Bester said. Users remain a critical weakness as well, but that hasn’t stopped progress.

“I can’t tell you how many schools have asked me how to do this,” Ring said. “We are definitely not the first commercial cloud effort in DoD. What does make us unique, however, is we synchronize our data from the commercial side to the military side, across both domains ... and the first to do it under the new DoD cloud strategy.”

Related: Cloud concerns delaying Army unified capabilities RFP

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