DISA plans for exabytes of drone, satellite data

The agency is planning a secure cloud to hold all the imagery and data collected by the military's drones, satellites and other sources.

The Defense Information Systems Agency is going to the cloud to store the massive amounts of data gathered by the military’s growing roster of imaging devices. The agency has awarded a $45 million non-competitive contract to Alliance Technology Group to develop a large data object (LDOS) cloud service capable of storing exabytes of data on “hundreds of billions” of imagery files.

The secure intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) cloud will be accessible across networks and will be used to store a variety of ISR data, including wide-area motion imagery, standard and high-definition full-motion video, and images in hyperspectral, laser imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR), electro-optical/infrared and synthetic aperture radar formats.

Some of the data to be stored include full-motion video files from drones and satellites, including data from the Air Force’s Gorgon Stare wide-area surveillance sensor system, which uses nine drone-mounted video cameras that can capture motion imagery of an entire city. DISA also wants the cloud to be capable of storing geospatial data from iPads and smartphones.

LDOS clouds are designed to hold large amounts of data. In data terms, a large object (LOB) can hold up to 128 terabytes depending on its configuration. LOBs are good for storing semi-structured data, such as an XML documents processed by an application or external service, and unstructured data, such as a photographic image stored as a binary file.

DISA said the ISR storage Cloud will exceed an exabyte, or 1 million terabytes, within the next few years and “may grow to 3-4 exabytes in the out years,” in a memo from the Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization-National Capital Region posted April 4th on the Federal Business Opportunities website. Parts of the memo, including storage location, are blacked out for security reasons.

According to the memo, required to offer justification for other than full and open competition, DISA needed LDOS technology to build the ISR cloud and doesn’t have the space or hardware in its Defense Enterprise Computing Centers (DECCs) to build it there. Furthermore, the memo stated, DISA does not have the funding to purchase the hardware or storage space needed for the ISR cloud.

“A commercial ISR cloud service will provide significant cost savings over existing POSIX storage technologies,” the memo states.  

DISA awarded the Hanover, Md.-based company the contract because “Alliance Technology Group is the only contractor with the ability to provide the ISR cloud solution with available bandwidth at a secure and accessible location.” Alliance is a small, disadvantaged business.

Alliance will set up self-contained storage units, shipped as fully operating, each with a 10 petabyte (10,000 terabyte) capacity. The units will be connected via a network to form the ISR Storage Cloud.

“The assistant secretary of defense has articulated a vision for transforming the information environment within DOD,” the memo states. “The envisioned changes represent a fundamental paradigm shift from providing platform-centric applications to platform-independent web-enabled net-centric services that meet the requirements of the end users, and which are highly available, secure and reliable.”

Many federal and state agencies are turning to cloud storage, an initiative encouraged by the National Archives and Records Administration, which was tasked in August 2012 by the Office of Management and Budget directive to oversee the development of a robust records management framework based on cloud architecture, secure storage and analytical tools.

The directive outlined a number of action items that should be completed by December 2013, including an annual agency update on new cloud initiatives and how they meet Federal Records Act obligations and the goals outlined in the directive. 

Both the state of Oregon and the CIA have cloud initiatives. The CIA cut a $600 million deal with Amazon Web Services to build a private cloud infrastructure to help manage its big data demands. CIA chief technology officer Gus Hunt told a tech industry audience March 20 that the agency had a nearly limitless demand for big data surrounding its intelligence targets.

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