Cloud poses challenges for warfighter data sharing

IT staffs confronted with providing unlimited capacities face daunting task

Collaboration and data sharing are the buzzwords at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems conference, but there are many underlying tasks that must be addressed by the IT staffs who must handle data gathering and dissemination. These challenges are growing as more data is gathered and the ultimate goal is to get this information out to warfighters in the field.

A number of these issues were addressed May 4 in a panel titled "Secure and Collaborative Intelligence to Support the Warfighter." The challenge of managing data stored in the cloud is a big hurdle. But when teams deploy in remote areas, connecting to the cloud or another network is a more basic requirement.

“We need to ensure that our networks can operate independently of any local infrastructure,” said Gregory Palmertree, chief technology officer for the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity. “When we hit the ground, we may not be in an area that’s connected to the cloud. When we come back, we need to seamlessly interconnect and update data so it can be used by other teams that may be heading into action immediately.”

Using cloud computing to store data and provide processing power makes it easier for warfighters to carry lightweight computing equipment into the field. While individual users like the concept of unlimited computing capabilities that exist somewhere in the ether, those tasked with providing these unlimited capacities face major challenges.

“We all understand the cloud we’re talking about is very data intensive,” said Lynn Schnurr, senior technical advisor and Army intelligence CIO for the Army Deputy Chief of Staff.

Among the many challenges is the sheer volume of data that’s created in a given day. When large numbers of sensors on unmanned aircraft are all gathering information around the clock, managing and analyzing this data is increasingly challenging.

“Our combat air patrols for remotely controlled aircraft have increased over 900 percent since 2004,” said Robert “Bo” Marlin, deputy director for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities at the Air Force. “The hard part is to bring all the ISR information into our systems, then process and disseminate it in close to real time with all our partners in a cross-domain architecture.”

Some of the sensors on these aircraft can create as much as a petabyte of data in a day, and many create hundreds of terabytes. That makes it difficult to store all the data, particularly over the long term.

That also makes it difficult for users to understand and use information that’s important to them. “We’re now at the point that it’s often hard to do manually. We have to move to automatic systems with marking processes,” said James R. Martin, ISR programs director for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

Tightened budgets further compound the challenge facing IT staffs. “In the past, services could build dedicated products,” said Jack Gumtow, CIO at the Office of Naval Intelligence. “We’re entering a world of declining budgets, which may provide an incentive to move to a common framework.”

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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