The Obama administration has embraced the concept of Big Data, calling on federal agencies to find ways to make the government’s vast quantities of data available to the public for their use.
Big Data has become such a hot topic “because our world has been changing,” said Lawrence Sherrow, Solutions Architect for Data Centers at Brocade. “With the consumerization of data analytics and additional inputs generated by social media, search engines, and scientific research, agencies can look at data in an entirely new way.”
One agency that has always understood the value of Big Data is the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). The development of cloud computing has empowered the space agency to both use its data and make it available to others.
To date, NASA has posted more than 3,300 data sets to Data.gov, the federal government’s repository for all its Open Data sets. While the data sets are quite technical, geared to the scientific community, they cover the gamut of possible topics, from land and ocean temperatures to atmospheric chemistry, precipitation to solar radiation.
NASA also is an enthusiastic participant in Challenge.gov, which invites citizens, nonprofits and businesses to tackle big problems. For instance, the Asteroid Grand Challenge Series is intended to enlist thousands of people in the effort to identify, track, categorize, and mitigate the risk of asteroids approaching Earth.
“I think the pressure on federal government to become IT innovators is extremely important because of the growth of data,” Sherrowsaid. “Soon the storage usage will go from Terabytes to Petabytes and then Exabytes.”
NASA was one of the first early adopters of cloud computing, establishing a private cloud data center, called Nebula, in 2009 at the Ames Research Center. By 2012, however, Nebula was no longer competitive with public cloud offerings, which offered better reliability, cost-effectiveness, IT support, and greater capacity.
Tom Soderstrom, NASA’s IT chief technology officer, said in a video last year that the agency learned important lessons from its first foray into cloud computing. One of the biggest lessons might also be one of the most surprising: Soderstrom said that figuring out the technology for cloud computing was “not that difficult,” but figuring out how to write a contract that procurement officers could execute and legal officials would approve was much harder.
Now the agency has its Web Enterprise Service Technology prime contract (WestPrime), which allows NASA components to purchase what they need from an approved list of vendors without having to create a new RFP.
One of the side effects of Big Data, however, is that the more it is mined and used, the more analytics are applied, and the more data gets created.
“As the data grows, it will put stress on IT infrastructure. As we look at it from a network prospective, architectures will need to move larger amounts of data faster and more efficiently. The underlying infrastructure will need to uniformly scale out with minimal effort,” Sherrow said. “The idea is to reduce the amount of administration by adding automation for the day-to-day operations.”