August 19, 2014 | Written by: Maamar Ferkoun
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In my previous blog post, “Governments are capitalizing on the cloud,” I discussed how governments are starting to embrace cloud computing for its multiple benefits such as scalability, flexibility and cost savings. One government agency, the US Department of Defense, is harnessing this technology to achieve superiority on the battlefield in both conventional conflicts and asymmetric warfare.
Benefits of cloud computing for the military
The military is looking at the streamlining capabilities of cloud to optimize organizational processes and generate efficiency.
Mobile computing technology is being factored in, also. Elastic resources from a plethora of cloud and network technologies are being used to achieve a whole range of functionality, storage and mobility for a multitude of mobile devices anywhere, at any time—be it at a battalion headquarter level or on a forward operating base.
The non-siloed infrastructure of cloud computing allows for the shifting away from an array of disconnected components to an agile, flexible and scalable environment.
But the most appealing and significant aspect of the cloud for the military has certainly been the analytics. Often cited as an example, it has been dubbed Cloud-enabled Advanced Analytics (in this download) by the US Army Intelligence and Security Command. US Army Common Operating Environment Architecture components such as LandWarNet, Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) and the Interoperability Integration Event are utilized to provide advanced analytics and precision search.
The collection, processing and analyzing of diverse types of structured and unstructured data in a very short time is providing the chain of command with an instant and accurate view of the theater of operation. It is also helping to support the decision-making process regarding battlefield intelligence.
This list of benefits is certainly not exhaustive, and while the outcome might be promising there are still challenges the armed forces have to face.
Challenges of using cloud computing in the military
For cloud computing to work, the military will have to deal with the existence of disparate defense agencies with silo infrastructures and different standards. The different branches of the armed forces must be unified and centralized. However, this may prove difficult because most armies are still managing several intelligence stovepipes with no interconnection between them.
A vast amount of information is generated from space, airborne and land sensors and from numerous locations for different branches of the forces. Harnessing this data for the purpose of gathering critical intelligence will require a significant investment in analytics that can process both structured and unstructured data.
Also critical to the military is having the capacity to process information at the actual battlefield. To provide good operational and tactical capabilities, the cloud will have to be at the battlefield level, and this means the size of the cloud matters. The military will have to look at ways to bring in a cloud infrastructure that can process and analyze information at the edge of the operational theater (where there is often limited bandwidth).
Another challenge is that cloud vendors are not always compatible. This might be an issue if workloads are to be moved from one service provider to another. Prior to moving to the cloud, the application portfolio will have to be rationalized to avoid duplication and redundancy, which in turn creates more expenses. Finally, the service providers may not have the capacity to handle the huge amount of data required to support the whole defense system.
The verdict on cloud computing for the military
Despite the pros and cons, cloud computing is already gaining traction as an important component for the military and will increasingly become common practice. Different defense agencies are prototyping new cloud programs, consolidating and standardizing their existing cloud structures with their network-centric operations.
With an ever-increasing emphasis on the situational awareness of the theater of operations, cloud technology can provide a definitive advantage and be the decisive edge to achieving tactical and operational superiority in future battles.
Can you think of other cases where cloud computing can be used in the defense industry? Please write your comments below to start the conversation.