Today my employer, IBM, announced that it was awarded a 10 month long contract with the United States Air Force. According to the press release, the contract calls for IBM to “design and demonstrate a secure cloud computing infrastructure capable of supporting defense and intelligence networks.” Lieutenant General William Lord, Chief Information Officer and Chief, Warfighting Integration for the Air Force, goes further by stating the purpose of the project will be to “develop an architecture that could lead to improved performance within the Air Force environment to improve all operational, analytical and security capabilities”
As near as I can tell from the press release there are two main requirements of the project. The first requirement is that IBM employs cloud computing techniques to enable the Air Force to perform what the press release calls “stream computing.” Simply speaking, this is about producing actionable intelligence by inspecting massive amounts of continually streaming data in real time. There are probably few use cases where stream computing capabilities are more mission-critical. The Air Force will be leveraging the capability to detect cyber threats, network failures, application failures, etc., and prevent those dangers from becoming a service disruption that could inhibit their operational capability and possibly threaten our security.
Unlike the first requirement, the second requirement is a goal for a majority of cloud projects. The Air Force is looking for the solution to deliver autonomic computing capabilities. Resources in the cloud must continually be tuned for the highest level of optimization, and the tuning should happen with no need for human intervention. While the requirement is standard fare, I would bet the implementation will be anything but ho-hum. The kind of optimization that is being talked about here is balancing world-class performance with little tolerance for disruption, with the guiding principle of constraint in the consumption of resources. Only the resources necessary for the job should be used, no more. That may be easy in environments with lenient performance goals, but the environment proposed here will be anything but that.
It’s too early to tell exactly what will come of this joint project between IBM and the Air Force, but it warrants a close eye over the coming months. Not only will the implementation details, at least what gets publicized, likely be pretty interesting, one can only assume that the project will lead to reusable discoveries and best practices in at least the areas of cloud optimization and security. If the resulting architecture and techniques hold up to the rigors and requirements put forth by the mission-critical, super security sensitive needs of the Air Force, it’s probably hardened enough for nearly any use case.