Microsoft is working closely with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to transform the digital systems that drive the armed forces, to deliver what is being dubbed Defence-as-a-Platform, or DaaP. Its aim is to accelerate the delivery of new systems, as well as simplifying them and reducing their cost.
Speaking at a keynote address during Microsoft's Future Decoded event in London, MoD chief digital and information officer Mike Stone detailed how he was facing challenges that will be familiar to IT chiefs in many other organisations, such as attempting to transform and overhaul the way IT is delivered while facing budget restrictions, in addition to having the kind of mission-critical requirements that few others have to face.
"I was brought in 18 months ago with a remit to transform the delivery of information capabilities to defence, and to do so at pace," Stone said. That remit covers satellite communication networks, all of the radio systems used by the military, plus all of the vehicles and sensors in use.
Of the initiatives that Stone is currently pushing through, Defence-as-a-Platform is the most transformative, he said, and also the one with which he is working most closely with Microsoft. It has a number of requirements that go beyond the typical IT transformation.
"Defence-as-a-Platform has got to support defence in all of the environments in which we operate, that's air, land, sea, but also includes space and cyber. It has got to support our people in offices but also out in the field and deployed. It has to support every one of the security classifications, from official through secret, and all the labels that go on that like ‘secret: UK Eyes Only' and ‘Five Eyes', through to Top Secret and beyond," Stone (left) said.
"The aim of all this is so that we can ensure that anyone with the appropriate permissions can log on to any of our tactical, deployed or corporate solutions with a single set of credentials, and experience something that is familiar to them. Not the same, but familiar, and they can get the data and content they need for the role they are fulfilling at that time," he added.
As part of the transformation, the MoD is looking to "fully embrace the power of the cloud and mobility", and that this will involve migrating to cloud-hosted services delivered from data centres such as the Microsoft facilities set to open in the UK next year that the firm also announced during the Future Decoded event.
"We are essentially at the moment at the alpha stage; we will move on the 22 Jan to a beta, and then come April next year, we will be migrating 20,000 users a month for the next year onto this new style of IT, which includes Office 365 in a private instance and which will be hosted in HP X-Listed data centres in the UK, and also in Microsoft data centres here in the UK," Stone said.
A List X site is one that is accredited to securely store UK government information, and HP began offering Microsoft services from its data centres about a year ago.
"I'm very grateful to Microsoft for coming with us on this journey to enable us to deliver this," Stone said, hinting at another strong motive for why Microsoft made the decision to build a data centre presence here in the UK.
Stone also said that he was impressed with the capabilities that Microsoft was offering as part of its cloud services, such as Azure Active Directory, Azure Rights Management and the Enterprise Mobility Suite. Together, these offer a "fantastic set of capabilities" that the MoD aims to exploit to deliver greater mobility, he explained.
In particular, Stone said that the Azure Stack platform that Microsoft announced earlier this year could prove immensely useful for delivering IT services for remote bases or on board naval vessels and suchlike.
"The Azure Stack, or as I think of it, Azure in a box, is going to be hugely useful for us in terms of supporting what we refer to as an autonomous cloud. If you think about it, a submarine for instance loses connectivity with the world, and when it comes back up, it needs to resynchronise with everything else," he said.
Meanwhile, part of Stone's remit is to accelerate the pace of change, and because of this he has had to drastically shake up the procurement processes and even renegotiate existing contracts, such as that for Defence Information Infrastructure (DII), which took five years to get to contract and has already been running for 10 years.
"We've got to fundamentally change all of that. What used to be the case within the DII was that it could take a year or more to get change through as it rattled around between the consortium members and the authority, but we've now got every process down to under six weeks," he said.
"What we're seeking to do is to ensure that we procure ‘evergreen' services as opposed to point solutions, products that you then get stuck with for a long period of time, as we have done in the past. And we also want to stop what we often end up stuck in, which is long monolithic contracts with systems integrators," Stone explained.
"Here, what we're seeking to do is deliver more, faster, but within the overall financial envelope of those current contracts," he said.
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