The U.S. Coast Guard is preparing to embark on a major push into cloud services beginning within the next year, said Jonathan White, the Coast Guard’s Platforms and Data Branch Chief, at Red Hat’s Nov. 9 Government Symposium in Washington, D.C.

White said the Coast Guard is just at the point of embarking on what he expects to be a  “transformative” technology journey, and that the starting point is cloud services. “I see the cloud being a clean slate we can paint off of and put our modernization piece on to,” he said.

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“We’re going from a very much on-prem enterprise and trying to rapidly build out our cloud infrastructure – do some migrations – but also focus on our data,” White said. “The data is what’s going to drive our future mission.”

The Coast Guard’s strategic message is “tomorrow looks different, so will we.” Tomorrow, White said, looks like a data-driven enterprise. His end goal is to pull data from inside the organization and bring it out to the mission’s edge so personnel can do their jobs better.

“The cloud and automation is going to enable that transformation,” White said.

Currently, he said, automation plays little to no role in the Coast Guard. White said the goal is to complete the transition of select on-prem legacy systems to the cloud in the next two years. But he only wants to tackle that jump with automation.

“My policy as the cloud and data branch chief is automate first, automate only,” White said. “You are not going to provision anything in our cloud environment unless it’s through a software defined or automated service.”

The biggest barrier in all of this, he said, is the necessary change in culture for his employees and developers.

“In my view, automation is more about culture change,” White said. “You also need to build and curate the environment where you can have that automation platform.”

White’s goal has been to sell the vision and efficiency of automation to his on-prem engineers, so that they can see it’s a worthwhile investment. He plans for automation to reduce the Coast Guard’s disaster recovery time by at least 50 percent.

“The Coast Guard is aiming to achieve a rapid modernization effort. I don’t think the cloud necessarily enables a modernization effort,” White said. “I actually see the cloud as enabling focus on modernization.”

He continued: “If I can strip away a lot of the traditional IT work that you would do for a particular project, then you can focus on what matters.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.