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Hosts Tom Temin and Emily Kopp bring you the latest news affecting the federal community each weekday morning, featuring interviews with top government executives and contractors. Listen live from 6 to 9 a.m. or download archived interviews below.
Agencies tackle cloud, mobile, big data convergence
Wednesday - 1/16/2013, 5:22am EST
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is leading a new effort to help integrate the cloud and mobile with big data.
NIST, which is holding a three-day workshop in Gaithersburg, Md. this week, is asking agency, private sector and academic experts for their help in tackling the challenges that come with integrating big data and cloud services.
Patrick Gallagher, director, National Institute of Standards and Technology
As agencies have moved toward the cloud and through a more widespread use of smartphones and tablet computers, employees have found the amount of data available has increased significantly.
Departments also want to make better use of the information to improve their decision-making across mission areas. But the question quickly turns to for many, how do they deal with the data tsunami?
"I think that this progression now leads very naturally both to Steve [VanRoekel's] governmentwide strategy for the federal government — it also has broadened — but in particular it raises the notion one of the critical intersections between cloud computing and big data," Gallagher said. "Cloud is a multiplier when it's combined with other technologies, and it frees the users from the constraints of location and catalyzes data driven inspiration for discovery."
The workshop's goal, in part, is to answer some basic questions:
- How do you define "big data?"
- What new things happen at the intersection between cloud and big data?
- What are the things that shape big data and cloud going forward?
- What are the challenges?
- What will break?
- What new opportunities will open?
"This is a rare opportunity to bring together what are often two very different communities to look at the intersection of these two worlds," he said.
Steven VanRoekel, federal chief information officer
Steven VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, said the government holds so much data that unlocking it, like what the Defense Department did with Global Position Systems data or what the National Weather Service did with weather data, could have a huge impact on the lives of citizens.
"We're right now starting to build policy and rules, and starting to change hearts and minds on the value of opening that data and looking at what we could do," he said. "We've been holding and working with agencies to aggressively unlock data."
A big data strategy?
VanRoekel didn't comment on whether this intersection of cloud and data will require new strategies.
But others at the conference said if you look at the roadmap the Office of Management and Budget has been asking agencies to create, over the last four years, a cloud strategy to go with the cloud first policy and a mobile strategy to go with the mobile expansion. Asking agencies to create a big data strategy is not only possible, but likely.
VanRoekel said the goal is not just to have the data, but to know what you have and understand its value to the agency's mission.
"We need your help in really thinking about the multiplier effect of this work," he said. "The combination of cloud and big data not only can create useful insights, but also can create incredible value both on the value we provide downstream like the weather and GPS examples of public safety, economic benefits and other things, but real value in the way we think about decision making, the way we think about policy in the government, the way we think about creating mission-based systems, and I think there is a definite multiplier effect to be had at that intersection."
Pete Tseronis, the Energy Department's chief technology officer, said from his agency's perspective it makes sense to have a big data strategy, though he didn't have any knowledge of what OMB's actual plans are for requiring agencies to create such a document.
"Do we have a data scientist now? No. We have a lot of them in the labs. Do we have some one individual who's looking at all the data sets, and compiling them and making sense of them? No. But it's logical that working with our enterprise architects, our mission owners to get our hands around the information could be a follow-on to the digital strategy," he said.
Value of data is hard to grasp
Tseronis added the digital strategy requires agencies to make all data machine-readable and make it accessible on mobile and public platforms.
He said it's up to the agencies to work together to creating big data strategies.
Energy is one of several agencies trying to address its big data challenges.
Tseronis said Energy is trying to better understand the value of the data, not just that it has lots of data.
Pete Tseronis, chief technology officer, Energy Department
Tseronis said Energy is in the formulation stage of this concept, but it's part of the evolution of cloud, mobile and data. He said Energy needs to figure out which tools and processes are best to analyze and increase the data's impact.
Energy's experience with cloud as a platform has been a good especially around high performance computing. Tseronis said the Magellan program, which went from August 2009 to December 2011, showed how the agency would benefit from using the cloud for high performance data manipulation needs.
"If those supercomputers are busy or if there is a logjam of folks in the queue, then the cloud, whether in a public or private mode, is now an option for the Department of Energy if the computers themselves are not available," he said. "It gives us an option that wasn't available in the past."