NASA lab: Cloud is safe for mission-critical data

JPL officials say they have resolved concerns about the platform's safety

The leaders of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have resolved concerns about the safety of putting mission-critical data on cloud-computing platforms.

"We have validated that it can be secured, if you do it right, and it can certainly save a lot of time and money," Tomas Soderstrom, IT chief technology officer at JPL told Eric Chabrow, executive editor of, in a two-part interview.

Soderstrom spoke about the benefits of experimenting with a variety of cloud offerings: public, private, hybrid and community.

For example, as a foundation JPL took 180,000 images from Saturn. “They downloaded 180,000 images and we wanted to tile those, and put a mosaic around them, to process the images. We ran them through the lab and they took 15 days of straight 24-by-7 processing, and it still wasn't finished,” Soderstrom said.

Then the JPL team decided to spin up 60 processors in Amazon’s cloud and they finished downloading images in five hours for a total cost of $200.

“For us that was real validation,” of the value of cloud computing Soderstrom told

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NAA has used cloud computing for outreach and crowd sourcing, too. NASA JPL partnered with Microsoft on "Be a Martian,” essentially a game that lets the agency recruit citizen scientists who can peruse 250,000 pictures from mars to identify craters and help find evidence of water. All the code and images are stored in Microsoft’s cloud platform.

JPL embarked on similar projects with the Google cloud, creating a program that allows elementary school kids to tag images on Mars and compete with each other. The lab also has applications running in private clouds supplied by Lockheed Martin, and community clouds supplied by CSC-Terremark, and hybrid clouds as well as the NASA Nebula Cloud.

“We focused on the public data, to start, and we're now onto the sensitive data,” Soderstrom said in the interview. “In the meantime, we work with the vendors, to try to get them to take on some of the more difficult data, and by the time that they do, we will be ready for it.”

JPL has come far enough that the lab is comfortable with putting real mission data in the cloud, Soderstrom said.

"I'll probably be hung for this, but I really believe the cloud can be more secure than what we do today," Soderstrom, said in the second part of the interview.

Soderstrom advised other agency managers to not wait.

“Prototype now, try it now because then you will learn what IT security issues you have and then you can figure out which data you want to put in the cloud and not put in the cloud,” he said in the interview.

NASA JPL embarked on cloud experimentation to learn all the lessons and all the best practices from the outside and apply them on the inside if they needed to, he said. “So we could take those same lessons learned and apply them to a private cloud just as easily as we could to the public cloud, but not have to reinvent everything.”

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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