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data management

Researchers Organize to 
Share Data, Speed Innovation

February 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

To meet the challenge of implementing big data, a new international scientific organization is forming to facilitate the sharing of research data and speed the pace of innovation. The group, called the Research Data Alliance, will comprise some of the top computer experts from around the world, representing all scientific disciplines.

Managing the staggering and constantly growing amount of information that composes big data is essential to the future of innovation. The U.S. delegation to the alliance’s first plenary session, being held next month in Switzerland, is led by Francine Berman, a noted U.S. computer scientist, with backing from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Meeting the challenges of how to harness big data is what makes organizing and starting the Research Data Alliance (RDA) so exciting, Berman says. “It has a very specific niche that is very complementary to a wide variety of activities. In the Research Data Alliance, what we’re aiming to do is create really tangible outcomes that drive data sharing, open access, research data sharing and exchange,” all of which, she adds, are vital to data-driven innovation in the academic, public and private sectors. The goal of the RDA is to build what she calls “coordinated pieces of infrastructure” that make it easier and more reasonable for people to share, exchange and discover data.

“It’s really hard to imagine forward innovation without getting a handle around the data issues,” emphasizes Berman, the U.S. leader of the RDA Council, who, along with colleagues from Australia and the European Union, is working to organize the alliance. Ross Wilkinson, executive director of the Australian National Data Service, and John Wood, secretary-general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities in London, are the other members of the council.

U.S. Government Bets Big on Data

January 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

A multi-agency big data initiative offers an array of national advantages.

U.S. government agencies will award a flurry of contracts in the coming months under the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, a massive undertaking involving multiple agencies and $200 million in commitments. The initiative is designed to unleash the power of the extensive amounts of data generated on a daily basis. The ultimate benefit, experts say, could transform scientific research, lead to the development of new commercial technologies, boost the economy and improve education, all of which makes the United States more competitive with other nations and enhances national security.

Big data is defined as datasets too large for typical database software tools to capture, store, manage and analyze. Experts estimate that in 2013, 3.6 zettabytes of data will be created, and the amount doubles every two years. A zettabyte is equal to 1 billion terabytes, and a terabyte is equal to 1 trillion bytes.

When the initiative was announced March 29, 2012, John Holdren, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, compared it to government investments in information technology that led to advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet. The initiative promises to transform the ability to use big data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education and national security, Holdren says.

Currently, much of generated data is available only to a select few. “Data are sitting out there in labs—in tens of thousands of labs across the country, and only the person who developed the database in that lab can actually access the data,” says Suzanne Iacono, deputy assistant director for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

Too Much Information Imperils Big Data

January 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

It causes problems from the battlefield to the doctor’s office, but leaders are fueling the competitive fire to find an answer. 

Government experts on big data are taking a lesson from the commercial sector to introduce a novel means of finding solutions to some of their most daunting challenges. Using an open innovation approach, thought leaders believe they can generate new ideas while also reducing costs, speeding processes and soliciting responses from outside the usual cast of characters.
 

The National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA ran what they called the Ideation Challenge, focused on big data, between October and December of last year. The challenge comprised three different contests. Organizers scheduled the events close together on purpose, and officials used results from earlier competitions in the posting of later ones to help generate buzz. They hoped that participants would see what others had accomplished, then want to build or improve on those results.

Organizers focused the contests on the fields of earth science, health and energy. The series of competitions was hosted through the NASA Tournament Lab, which is a collaboration among the space agency, Harvard University and TopCoder, a competitive community for software development and digital creation with more than 400,000 members. Competitors submitted their ideas through TopCoder’s technologies.

Reading, Writing and Big Data Basics

January 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

An industry-supported online school provides a good grounding
in the science and application of very large datasets.

A virtual school, developed by a team of leading software and hardware companies, is providing readily accessible education in the use of large information datasets. The classes range from entry-level sessions on the essentials of big data for managers to practical instruction for veteran programmers who are accustomed to managing more traditional relational databases.

The mission of BigData University is to provide training and broaden the expertise of the big data community, explains Ben Connors, director of BigData University and worldwide head of alliances with Jaspersoft Incorporated, San Francisco. The uses of big data are expanding, whether for improving the health of children, facilitating the search for clean sources of energy or analyzing intelligence data from unmanned aerial vehicles. As a result, managers are realizing the potential that may be hidden within large information files whose size is measured by petabytes and exabytes, Connors explains.

Cyber Committee Shares Expertise

November 15, 2012
By Maryann Lawlor

Ranging in topics from cloud computing to supply chain management, AFCEA’s Cyber Committee has published five white papers. Available on the committee’s website, information ranges from the basics to high-level recommendations that will be useful not only to organizations’ information technology personnel but also to leadership planning strategies for the future.

 

Defense Board Computing Recommendations Lack Strength

November 1, 2012
By Paul A. Strassmann

 

The Defense Business Board is the highest-level committee advising the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Its report on “Data Center Consolidation and Cloud Computing” offers advice on what directions the Defense Department should follow.
 

However, the Defense Business Board (DBB) report is incomplete. It does not offer actionable solutions; it only raises policy-level questions. As components are formulating budget requests through fiscal year 2018, they will find nothing in this report to guide them on what type of realignments are needed to advance the Defense Department toward cloud computing.

The department’s fiscal year 2012 budget for information technology is reported to be $38.5 billion, $24 billion of which is dedicated to infrastructure. Those numbers are incomplete because they do not include the payroll of 90,000 military and civilian employees, which is worth more than $10 billion. The numbers do not include the time expended by employees in administrative, support, training and idle time that is associated with more than 3 million online users, which amounts to at least $3,000 per capita per year, or $9 billion. In terms of potential cost reduction targets, the total direct information technology budget should be at least $50 billion. In addition, there are collateral management costs such as excessive purchasing due to long procurement cycles, high user support costs to maintain separate systems and high labor costs resulting from inefficient staff deployment.

Managing Change in the
 Intelligence Community

October 1, 2012
By Max Cacas

A new computing architecture emphasizes shared resources.

The nation’s intelligence community has embarked on a path toward a common computer desktop and a cloud computing environment designed to facilitate both timely sharing of information and cost savings. The implementation could result in budget savings of 20 to 25 percent over existing information technology spending within six years, but the ramifications could include large cultural changes that result both in lost jobs and business for industry partners.

Al Tarasiuk, chief intelligence officer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), explains that the changes will be difficult. Agency employees, and the vendors who help operate and manage information technology for the 17 agencies composing the nation’s intelligence apparatus, will feel the effects of the cost cuts.

“Right now, technology is not our biggest risk. The culture change is our biggest risk, and that extends to our industry partners. We have a lot of industry employed in the community through service contracts and other things. They could help, or they could choose not to help,” Tarasiuk emphasizes, candidly describing the pivotal role of these firms in a transition that could spell the loss of both business and jobs. “They know, and I’ve been very open with them, that we’re not going to need the pool of resources of people that we have today to manage what we have in the future.”

Writing
 a New Spy School
 Syllabus

October 1, 2012
By Max Cacas

The National Intelligence University prepares for its fifth decade with a shift in focus and a change in venue.

The National Intelligence University, which provides advanced training to U.S. intelligence professionals, is transitioning from an institution primarily focused on the U.S. Defense Department to one serving the entire intelligence community. This reflects the new emphasis toward sharing and collaboration within the nation's intelligence apparatus.

To make the change a reality, National Intelligence University (NIU) leaders are rethinking and expanding the educational programs the institution offers. Plans also are underway to relocate the university to its own new campus in the very near future—in part to bolster its perception as an intelligence community strategic resource.

Dr. David R. Ellison, president of the NIU, says that the change began with the appointment of James Clapper as the director of National Intelligence in 2010. “Director Clapper recognized that if we were going to have a National Intelligence University in the intelligence community, the best place to start was with an accredited institution that had already achieved success in an academic area,” Ellison explains. He adds that Clapper went on to draft a memorandum to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, defining education as a force multiplier and a tool that must be used to the advantage of the entire intelligence community.

“What he envisioned was that the then-National Intelligence College would become the National Intelligence University, and it would provide accredited education, academic research and academic outreach to the intelligence community as a whole,” Ellison points out.

Intelligence CIOs Teaming for Change

October 1, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman

New common goals open doors for more efficient approaches to information sharing.

Technological and cultural barriers are falling away as intelligence community organizations strive to establish a collaborative environment for sharing vital information. This thrust may be a case of an urgent need overcoming traditional obstacles as onetime rival groups embrace cooperation with the goal of building a synergistic information realm.

This effort comprises several initiatives that range from establishing a common information interface to moving to the cloud. Along with programs to meet technological challenges, the thrust has changed relationships among agencies and even the nature of some intelligence organizations.

These initiatives have brought the FBI back into the core of intelligence community information sharing. For several years, the bureau has been migrating toward becoming a domestic intelligence organization concurrent with its law enforcement activities. It faces different hurdles than those confronted by defense-oriented intelligence agencies, but some of the solutions realized by the bureau might be applied across the intelligence community.

Other organizations in the intelligence community are weighing different options. Their chief information officers (CIOs) are dealing with the challenges inherent in sharing information across organizational lines, but with different approaches that may based in part on whether they largely are the collectors or the processors. Regardless, the information technology element of the intelligence community is becoming more integrated, says Grant M. Schneider, deputy director for information management and CIO at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

Claraview Receives System Life Cycle Support Contract

November 30, 2011
By George Seffers

Claraview, a division of Teradata, Reston, Virginia, was awarded an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract not-to-exceed ceiling price of $27,016,520 for continuation of system life cycle support services for data management/enterprise data warehouse/business intelligence environments. The Defense Information Technology Contracting Organization, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, is the contracting activity.

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