Cloud Cuts Application Development Time for Air Force and DHS’ CIS

Cloud enables Air Force and Citizenship and Immigration Services to reallocate resources as they modernize and improve security.

Federal agencies are moving to cloud services to focus less on data centers and infrastructure, and more on application deployment. For U.S. Air Force Deputy Chief Information Officer William Marion II, this means being able to deliver IT at commercial speeds with agility.

The Air Force has a very mobile scale, with 700,000 endpoints on premise requiring efficient IT and cyber support and 2,000 business systems. Its journey to the cloud began two years ago, and it has since adopted five or six main services to deliver as an enterprise across the Air Force.

The Air Force also leverages Defense Department Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program-Plus (FedRAMP-Plus)-authorized platform-as-a-service, software-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service solutions, which add advanced security requirements for DOD.

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“Right now, we’re really focused providing global, at-scale enterprise services,” Marion said.

However, migration to the cloud is only one part of a larger initiative within the Air Force.

“That transformation of IT isn’t just about providing more security, more agility and more speed,” he said at the Amazon Web Services Public Sector Summit on June 14 in Washington, D.C. Moving to the cloud also allows industry to drive the innovation and scalability of the infrastructure, freeing up resources so Marion’s workforce can spend more time on cybersecurity business and operations. This means improving data security and application security.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also plans to expand its cloud use, according to Sarah Fahden, the associate chief of the USCIS Verification Program. Speaking at the same event, Fahden said her team is modernizing the E-Verify and SAVE applications into the AWS cloud, while moving the legacy system into the same environment to eliminate the datacenter. These apps validate and verify employee and benefit-applicant immigration statuses.

For the Air Force, cloud also replaces the lengthy process of provisioning software and platform service environments, speeds up application deployment and allows users to spend more time on application functionalities and capabilities. Ultimately, it’s more important to deliver the application to the end user, Marion said. As for security, he said it is “far beyond everything else that we had running."

Fahden also argued security is better with the cloud by enabling a quicker reaction to security events, “in ways that you never would have been able to do in a datacenter." USCIS is able to log much more data and store it cost-efficiently, and the cloud conducts security scans and daily monitoring for every single asset and tool implemented.

The cloud is providing a roadmap for other innovative initiatives as well. The Air Force hopes to leverage the cloud to tackle its next core concern, operational readiness from logistics to personnel, by layering big data analytics and data mining capabilities.

USCIS is building a Person Centric Query Service so users can submit a request and see all transactions involving an immigrant or nonimmigrant across DHS and external systems. The service also gives a view of the person’s past interactions with DHS and other agencies as he or she passed through the immigration system.

As part of the verification modernization, Fahden said she realized the program had many manual cases and not enough time to process them all, and data was coming in from all different systems throughout USCIS. The agency has already made progress in the past few months by consolidating and migrating records to the PCQS, and hopes it will improve the quality of data coming into the Verification Program.

“For immigration though, it’s endless, the possibilities,” Fahden said.  

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