TTC's Big Data Conference Offers Big Insights

Published: October 02, 2013

ARMYBig DataCloud ComputingDEFENSEIntelligence

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference on government big data put on by the Technology Training Corporation. The subject of this symposium was big data for the defense and intelligence communities. The symposium provided a number of important insights into the kinds of big data solutions DoD/IC customers are looking for, including analytics, infrastructure, and strategic planning.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a conference on government big data put on by the Technology Training Corporation.  TTC always puts on an excellent event featuring a balanced mix of government and industry speakers that provide multiple perspectives on the subject at hand.  The subject of this symposium was big data for the defense and intelligence communities.  Given that these two parts of the federal government are trailblazers in the use of big data solutions, I went to the conference in anticipation of getting a plethora of good insight into capabilities that the DoD and IC are looking for.

I wasn’t disappointed.  The first major theme that cut across most of the presentations was the intersection of cloud computing and big data.  This is a subject I’ve written on several times in the last year, particularly in regard to the fact that cloud computing is proving to be an enabling factor for big data capabilities.  This theme was echoed by several of the speakers.  For example, Jill Singer, formerly the Chief Information Officer for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and now a partner with Deep Water Point, called cloud a “game changer” when it came to the ways that federal customers are seeking to leverage IT services in general and big data capabilities in particular.  Diving deeper into Ms. Singer’s comments, she stated that “big data is about the network” meaning “big infrastructure companies [will need to] make an investment to keep up.”  The need for big infrastructure gets straight to the point about the value of cloud for government customers.  Even more than migrating applications to the cloud, government customers are looking for ways to divest themselves of infrastructure spending.  This is translating into big contracts for vendor provided cloud based infrastructure that customers can buy on a “per drink” basis.

John Marshall, Deputy Director of the National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) Program Management Office at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), echoed the importance of infrastructure, but added that bandwidth concerns are causing the DoD/IC to rethink data location.  As an example, Mr. Marshall cited the collocation of data centers and access points to ensure that the Defense and Intel Communities have adequate bandwidth to move big data around.  Another challenge DoD and IC components are having is finding cross-domain solutions that enable the free flow of data to proper classification levels while simultaneously keeping the data secure.  Lastly, Mr. Marshall stressed the need for better data mining capabilities and trained analysts to glean insight from the data.

Another speaker, Lisa Shaler-Clark, the Deputy Director/Program Manager for Futures at Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) touched on similar themes as Mr. Marshall, but expanded her comments to explain how INSCOM is leveraging cloud to address some of the cross-domain challenges.  Specifically, INSCOM is consolidating data into a “one cloud per domain” approach with cross-domain interfaces.  Data in these clouds is tagged (metadata) so that analysts can choose and analyze the data they require for their respective missions.  The biggest challenge, Ms. Shaler-Clark said, is balancing the use of 4 different architectures across the IC.  These architectures are the Intelligence Community IT Environment, (ICITE), for national and international level intelligence, the Joint Information Environment (JIE) for the strategic domain, the Army’s Common Operating Environment (COE) for the tactical domain, and the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise or DI2E.

Summarizing these priorities and challenges, the pain points discussed make it clear that the Defense and Intelligence Communities require big data solutions in the following areas:
  • Improving cross-domain data sharing
  • Improving data analysis capabilities, including text mining and full motion video analysis tools
  • Developing effective bandwidth utilization strategies
  • Reconciling disparate cloud architectures
Vendors offering solutions to any/all of these challenges will find eager partners in the DoD/IC.