After major disasters, geospatial cloud to the rescue

An industry/government consortium has begun testing a cloud infrastructure that would let international teams share information after events like the Haiti earthquake.

An industry/government consortium has begun testing a cloud infrastructure that will demonstrate how a coalition of organizations can share geospatial information as they respond to natural disasters around the world.

The Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium (NCOIC) is working with six member companies to produce a real-time simulation for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency of a scenario similar to the response that occurred after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Using unclassified NGA information, the project is designed to show how different technologies and data sources from a variety of organizations can support a unified mission. 

A major disaster such as the Haiti earthquake typically draws help from a diverse array of international players, including emergency response crews, military units, non-governmental organizations, relief workers, physicians and a host of others who need an accurate view of the situation. Too often they work with different geospatial or mapping systems, impeding the sharing of information.

The NCOIC Geospatial Community Cloud Concept Demonstration is working to solve that problem, creating an open cloud infrastructure upon which virtual teams can share information to assist emergency responders during disasters, said Tip Slater, NCOIC director of business development. The consortium has built an infrastructure that can serve as a template for other governments and agencies that want to learn how to rapidly assemble a collaborative cloud environment for producers and consumers of data during emergencies, he noted.

The geospatial cloud project will culminate with a demonstration in September for NGA, NATO, and Defense Department personnel and, possibly, also state and local first responders. Additionally, a white paper will be written for the NGA, documenting the process and lessons learned.

Technology service provider NJVC, an NCOIC member, led efforts to define and build the community cloud infrastructure earlier this year. NJVC’s Cloudcuity Management Portal, a multi-cloud broker service for the federal government, provides the underlying cloud infrastructure. 

During the first phase of the project, key issues including ownership, security, access, bandwidth latency and portability were addressed in the design of the community cloud. The second phase, which began in the spring, involved developing applications that will reside on the cloud infrastructure. Then participants also had to determine the rules that would govern how applications would plug into the infrastructure.

“The infrastructure is there,” Slater said. Now the consortium is working on rules that determine how information will flow through the cloud and who will have access to specific information, Slater said. He noted that the scenario the consortium has set up depicts multiple countries sharing information. However, some participants in the coalition might not want other members to have access to certain information, so, “determining how information flows, and who is going to get that information, is taking place now,” he said.

Besides NJVC, other NCOIC members taking part in the geospatial cloud project include The Aerospace Corp., Boeing, Raytheon, Telos and Winthrop Management Services. The companies are providing technical applications and services that an international disaster response force might use within a cloud environment to move critical geospatial data. For instance, Boeing provides geo services through OpenGeo’s software suite, while Aerospace Corp. provides an OpenStack-based cloud and a virtual organization management system. The companies are also serving as “actors” within the simulation, portraying military, government and civilian response teams from several different countries in order to demonstrate end-user capabilities.

NJVC’s Cloudcuity AppDeveloper has been chosen to provide the platform-as-a-service component of the infrastructure, which will help integrate the multiple applications supporting a diverse set of international disaster first responders, Kevin Jackson, NJVC’s vice president and general manager of cloud services, told GCN.

Additionally, Cloudcuity AppDeveloper will extend the Google Maps Engine development platform, now a part of the cloud infrastructure. Google will provide massively scalable, critical geospatial data and mapping services to the demonstration participants. Google Maps Engine is a cloud-based platform that lets users create, share, publish and view maps via a Web browser or Google Earth client.  Google Earth Server will provide an offline geospatial visualization capability on laptops, tablets and smartphones when needed.

“One of our goals was to provide something that would be accessible internationally,” Jackson said.  “By having Google, you can recreate this [cloud infrastructure] anywhere in the world,” he said.

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