Transportation builds cloud sandbox

DOT is building a cloud sandbox

The Department of Transportation is building an innovation sandbox in its cloud environments to give staff a secure and controlled computing space for short-term data analysis experiments.

The sandbox, expected to launch in April, is being built using isolated environments in DOT’s Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services clouds.  Both platforms boast marketplaces offering a variety of free tools with which DOT users can experiment, providing easy access to new technologies, some cutting edge, beta or worthy of review but not yet supported under DOT’s enterprise solution or architecture.

Ultimately, the sandbox will allow DOT employees with an idea to submit a data-driven hypothesis through a templated form and, once approved, test it over four weeks. The project will be tracked with the Trello collaboration tool, annotating the owner, status, simple notes and lessons learned.

“Tracking experiments eliminates duplication and reinforces collaboration and information sharing,” Transportation CTO Maria Roat told GCN. The experiments will have no real parameters aside from time limits and metrics or criteria that prove or disprove the hypothesis. Once completed, an experiment can be evaluated to determine whether it warrants a full pilot project or development for production.

Roat is also integrating the sandbox with DOT's Idea Hub, the online environment where employees can solicit, post information or ideas. Using the Idea Hub to promote the sandbox can help generate more data-driven projects and connect staff with those who may have more technical skills, she said.

In terms of security, Roat said her team has been working closely with the chief information security officer to ensure proper parameters and protocols are in place for the sandbox, even though it is in a closed environment. The sandbox will not include any personally identifiable information, but users can test and experiment with publically available data.

The agency will provide initial training to get staff comfortable with using the cloud and learning how to spin up their own cloud environment to manage resources and projects. “Part of the whole driver for the sandbox is we’re trying to lead innovation and drive change within the department, both for inward and outward facing projects,” Roat said.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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