Clouds in Japan

In wake of earthquake, researchers envision a cyber-physical cloud

Imagine an eco-social system, based on the interaction of billions of networked devices and humans, handling the flow of extraordinarily large amounts of information that can aid in emergency response, promote better health care or even help governments manage smarter cities.

That’s the type of cloud platform the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s IT Laboratory and Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) aim to produce through a collaboration project.

NICT and NIST ITL are developing a prototype cloud platform for collecting, archiving, organizing, manipulating and sharing very large cyber and physical social data sets. The two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding in February 2012 to promote collaborative projects such as the cyber-physical data cloud and network security.

Kyoung-Sook Kim, a researcher with NICT’s Information and Service Platform Laboratory, provided an overview of the project’s progress during a panel discussion at the NIST Cloud and Big Data Workshop,  Jan. 15 in Gaithersburg, Md. The project addresses the requirement in the U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap for academia, industry and the government to initiate development projects for future clouds.

The Great East Japan earthquake in 2011 prompted Tokyo to explore the pivotal role massive-scale cloud computing could play in supporting the country’s critical infrastructure and in providing government services, Kim said. During the recovery stage, the government realized cloud computing “is not only for cyberspace because it also needs to interact with the physical infrastructure and systems,” she said. As a result, the Japanese government is attempting to bring the cyber and physical worlds together via a cyber-physical data cloud.

Developments in broadband networks, mobile computing and social media are laying the foundation for cyber-physical data clouds. Physical environment sensor data, such as weather observations, can be instantly disseminated over the Internet via widely available broadband networks, according to NIST. People are also becoming human sensors as they use smart phones to distribute information about their physical environments via text messages, photos or video. And social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook encourage publishing and distributing sensing data in real time.

There is a push to harness this repository of sensing data so government and industry can gain knowledge of real-world situations and provide more actionable information services. The cyber-physical data cloud will be central for collecting, archiving, organizing, manipulating, and sharing very large data sets, according to NIST.

Kim said NICT has identified five problem areas associated with the development of cyber-physical data clouds:

  • Organizations must be able to efficiently use/reuse resources and physical systems.
  • An infrastructure has to be developed to support the rapid development and provisioning of the new cyber-physical system.
  • A smart adaption environment must be created so organizations can apply applications such as the smart grid or smart transportation.
  • The security, safety and reliability of the new cyber-physical systems must be addressed.
  • A broadband real-time network must be built to handle real-time operations.

NICT is focused on developing cyber-physical cloud services and systems using those services, Kim said. The organization is designing the conceptual architecture for the cyber-physical cloud.

Concurrently, NICT is developing the cyber-physical system sensor information system, which will provide access to and analysis of sensor data and produce actionable information via visualization tools. After NICT finishes work on many of the interfaces on this system, the organization will transition it to support the cyber-physical cloud, Kim said. However, a lot of work is still needed in the areas of architecture, security and standards before the project is completed, she added.

A cyber-physical architecture that addresses the convergence of the cloud, big data and social data is a good idea, said Melvin Greer, chief strategist for cloud computing at Lockheed Martin. It shows that cyber constructs and physical elements can be used to access data that can be applied to a variety of areas, such as emergency and disaster response, he noted.

Greer, also a vice chair of the Network Centric Operations Consortium, and Craig Lee, a senior scientist at Aerospace Corp., gave an update of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency/NCOC GEOINT community cloud prototype, which will help federal agencies respond to and provide humanitarian assistance during disasters.

NGA and NCOC are currently laying down the infrastructure for that community cloud. In June, the consortium will move to provide software, available through a software-as-a-service model, which can support disaster response and relief efforts, Greer said. For instance, an application that can overlay on a map all health care facilities affected by a disaster would let first responders know where to take the sick or wounded.

The NIST Cloud and Big Data workshop, held at the agency’s headquarters Jan. 15-17, focuses on the intersection of the two technologies, and big data’s relation to and influence on cloud platforms and computing.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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