Cloud Cover: Migrating Defence Systems to the Cloud

October 13, 2020

Migrating defence systems to the cloud presents challenges. How can defence organisations avoid these to ensure systems remain effective and safe?

Cloud Cover: Migrating Defence Systems To The Cloud
It’s not uncommon for systems nowadays to be powered by the cloud. A recent study shows that the cloud market is forecast to have a CAGR of 17.4% between 2020 and 2025, with the global market reaching a value of $832.1bn by the latter. 

There are plenty of reasons why this is becoming a trend in systems management. The cloud enables systems to be stored remotely on servers which are large enough to support their operations, improving performance while simultaneously reducing costs. 

Yet the process of migrating existing systems to cloud-based servers is undoubtedly a daunting one. The mere thought of relocating a system currently on-site to the cloud may be ominous from the perspectives of resourcing and costs. Yet in industries like defence, this process is key to injecting dynamism into existing systems so that they can operate efficiently and effectively in scenarios where speed is of the essence. 

Let’s explore some of the most prominent challenges associated with migrating systems to the cloud, and how – with the right approach – defence organisations can overcome these. 

Modularising Legacy Systems

At first, migrating systems to the cloud may seem unachievable. Legacy systems tend to be monolithic, hence bulky and cumbersome to operate, and cloud migration often demands modularisation, in which different aspects of the legacy system are broken up into smaller applications to be integrated into cloud servers. While this may not seem that complicated at first, the number of tasks needing to be completed in order to achieve full migration over to the cloud – and the time and financial costs accompanying these – will mean organisations having to commit considerable time and financial resources to this endeavour. 

A clear understanding of the components of the legacy system, and the overall structure of the system, is therefore essential. By mapping out systems and the components contained therein, a hierarchy can be established which identifies the most important of these and prioritises them for cloud migration. One of the most common ways this is done is by refactoring existing applications within the legacy system, which involves recoding and segmenting them in a way that optimises their performance in a cloud-based environment. Refactoring legacy systems can improve application performance and increase scalability, but it must be done carefully and with a keen eye on cost and functionality. Yet if the cost of refactoring the legacy system is kept under control, then moving a compartmentalised legacy system to the cloud will inevitably bring significant cost savings in the long-term, as organisations do not need to manage their own on-site servers.  

Refactoring is especially relevant to defence organisations, where legacy systems from the 1980s and 1990s – for one reason or another – often remain staples of their operations. Yet with the increasingly digital nature of warfare in the modern age, it has become essential for these organisations to improve their digital capabilities while ensuring that legacy systems in vehicles and equipment are not overly disrupted. 

Managing Microservices

Another means by which legacy systems can be migrated to the cloud involves the use of microservices. Adopting a microservices architecture gives organisations the ability to break down processes forming the overall system, enabling these to communicate with one another via application programming interfaces (or APIs). A microservices architecture reduces potential downtime and hence ensures operations continue to run smoothly throughout the migration process. 

In recent years, the way microservice architectures are organised has shifted towards an orchestration mode, where control over the microservices architecture is centralised and microservices communicate with one another to function. This is opposed to the choreography model in which services act autonomously in response to relevant external events. Orchestration enables more control over the individual microservices in operation, allowing for cross-communication between microservices and increasing availability across the microservice infrastructure. It also provides more tracking, scheduling, and operationalising opportunities than the choreography mode, ensuring organisations have total control over their systems and are easier to manage.

When adopting microservices architectures, however, organisations must be wary of potential vendor lock-in. Creating an architecture usually requires considerable time and cost-resources, meaning organisations may feel obliged to keep their new system on the same cloud server for longer than is desirable to avoid repeated costs. That makes it all the more important for organisations to properly plan out the entire migration process and ensure that they are confident that they have chosen the correct vendor to supply their cloud services. 

Physical-Cloud Integration

While use of the cloud is growing in the world of defence, physical on-site systems still have a role to play. These systems often require integration with private cloud servers in order to operate effectively, minimising the amount of physical storage space which is needed. However, the specific security challenges faced by defence systems must be accounted for when integrating physical on-site components with the cloud. 

Critical Software’s Oversee platform, providing Search and Rescue (SAR), law enforcement and environmental capabilities, required integration between physical on-site systems and the cloud. This platform’s connection to the cloud naturally had to be secure and inaccessible to those outside of the maritime agency using it. 

Critical’s work to upgrade services within Oversee – including call tapping and beacon services – so that they could easily connect with the cloud involved creating secure VPN tunnels to a private cloud server. As a result, an optimum scenario is achieved in which core components of the Oversee platform are kept on-premises yet have easy accessibility to a private and secure cloud network.  
To find out more about Oversee and the dynamic approach it brings to SAR missions, read our case study here.

There is no question that the cloud will be key to defence systems in the future. Leveraging cloud technology to modernise cumbersome legacy systems, through breaking them down into easily accessible and manageable components, is essential in an age where defence technology must be dynamic in order to succeed. Yet while the cloud brings both time and cost benefits, defence organisations need to be aware of the risks of cloud migration and how to mitigate them. 

But before migrating systems to the cloud, you need access to the safest and most effective technology. Check out how Critical keeps defence systems effective and safe through the link below.