The ability to rent as much computing and storage as you need for only as long as you need it enables you to solve problems and perform analyses that you could never afford to do if you had to OWN all of the hardware.
Cloud also helps shorten the time to solution by being able to scale up and down quickly to solve problems of varying sizes. NASA is implementing an enterprise approach to cloud, putting an infrastructure framework in place that provides all of the infrastructure elements in advance so users have less start-up time and start-up cost. The framework simplifies compliance for cloud users in the areas of Fed RAMP, security operations (FISMA), ICAM (authentication and authorization), network connectivity, agency accessible acquisition vehicles, and “pay as you go” monthly consumption-based invoicing. Our goal is to have our users be productive as quickly as possible and enable NASA to realize value early in the cloud technology lifecycle. This approach is paying off as we have much interest and more than sixty different projects in various stages from design to experimentation to production that are active in our cloud environment now. Applications range from institutional-related support to engineering to science. We are also seeing cloud being factored into the formulation of new missions. This will be extremely important as the amount of data produced by future missions routinely approaches petabytes per day and dwarfs the capacity of Agency-owned datacenters.
Innovating with IoT
At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, we created a technology lab known as Internet of Things (loT) to look into advanced innovation that the agency’s mission directorates and centers show an interest in these days. The lab is virtually connected to several centers as well as our Data Analytics Lab.
IoT uses what I would call a technology petri dish. For example, as we introduce potential “bacteria” into the dish, we can learn more about how it “infects” the other devices. The lab is our test bed for learning how secure devices are, as well as how to secure the devices that may have security weaknesses.
Cloud helps shorten the time to solution by being able to scale up and down quickly to solve problems of varying sizes
The best part about this is the lab lets us connect and network technology in a contained environment to detect vulnerabilities before we plug that technology into the NASA network.
Our role is to enable NASA mission engineers and scientists to do their job effectively—to enable groundbreaking discoveries. We keep an eye on data technology trends in the industry that we can apply as prototypes to demonstrate proof of concept for specific needs in the agency. Once we gain traction on an external solution, we infuse it back into NASA. NASA researchers also need opportunities to prototype their solutions. Our Technology and Innovation Labs gives them a chance to compete for internal funding to create prototypes to demonstrate relevance for further investigation in-house. As a government agency, we don’t compete with industry; but if we can’t find what we need to move our mission forward, we’ll create it or partner with industry to bring the idea into reality. Currently, we are working on a data project lovingly called “Doc in a Box.” The goal of this project is to provide crews of long-duration missions with an expert medical knowledge base capable of aiding the crew with any medical issue, rather than relying on medical guidance from experts back on Earth. The application benefits on our home planet could be incalculable.
The Road Ahead Lies in Data Science
Data science holds the keys to the future of the work we do at NASA. The agency just recently hired its first data scientist, who is responsible for identifying new tools and analytics to tease out new insights from NASA’s vast storehouses of data. Every mission, instrument, and person produces data. How we manage this data is a critical challenge. Working with our data scientist, we’re building and refining our agency-wide data capabilities to address the growing challenges of identifying, storing, accessing, analyzing and archiving the massive amounts of data we collect every day—not to mention our legacy data systems. We have sophisticated science instruments on our missions that collect data in volumes that exceed our current capacity to store and downstream back to Earth. At NASA, we’re making tough choices to dump data on an orbit that is outside the scope of immediate mission priorities. We’ll never know what insights and discoveries about our universe might have been lurking in the data we didn’t keep. We’re working to keep the conversation elevated across NASA to address ways to embrace Big Data and Big Computing with fresh eyes. In fact, we’re using innovative Big Data pilots to help NASA’s mission directorates further their goals. We’re developing data integration and data discovery techniques to further data analytics and visualization of data in a more timely fashion to create actionable information and insight.
CIO as a Strategic Partner
The role of the CIO in the federal government is an ever-changing role. NASA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer is seen as a strategic partner rather than merely a provider of IT devices and software. CIOs must ensure excellence in all aspects of organizational IT, from infrastructure to help desk support, as well as business leadership and guidance. I am focused on enabling the mission of NASA and servings as a trusted advisor to agency leadership on the direction of information management and cybersecurity.
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