On Point: Q&A With John Dvorak

March 1, 2022

John Dvorak is a chief architect for Red Hat and a member of the AFCEA Technology Committee and AFCEA Zero Trust Strategies Subcommittee. He is a former member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service and a private sector chief information officer and chief technology officer.

What are the biggest challenges to edge computing?

Edge is a continuum. The tactical edge is typically associated with DIL environments—delayed/disconnected, intermittently connected and low-bandwidth—with limited or no access to central data centers or cloud services. The biggest challenge is bringing the decisive advantage of cloud-scale decision making and analytics closer and faster to the point of action. In spite of the environmental constraints, we need to use everything we’ve learned about flexible and scalable compute platforms and apply that knowledge to the edge. Fielding single-use hardware platforms is expensive, but pushing software to a reusable platform is cheap. Acquisition approaches need to recognize that mission workloads should be deployable anywhere using a common set of standards across core, cloud or any layer of the edge.

How important will artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) be in denied or limited connectivity environments?

Decision making at the edge requires AI/ML solutions. We need to be able to gain insights and obtain value where we collect the data. We now have the compute and software platforms to overcome battlespace constraints, so we can concentrate on when and where we need to process data versus having our infrastructure restrict our choices. Any realistic vision of JADC2 imagines military commands processing and deconflicting sensor data from multiple domains and multiple authorities, in real time, in theater under conditions of chaos and disruption.

What role will the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G play in edge computing?

Some of the IoT sensors and actuators will be designed to communicate back to an edge platform to provide data such as warfighter biometric data, flight telemetry, video surveillance and scientific instrument outputs. However, mesh network topologies today allow us to bypass the traditional proxy solutions. IoT devices can communicate directly with one another, use store and forward protocols to manage data, or constrain data within a particular geographic region. 5G enables this type of device-to-device communication with increased bandwidth and potentially robust service level agreements. But the challenge in forward-deployed environments is whether we can trust the security and availability of 5G services. An alternative solution is low-earth-orbit networks, which can provide high bandwidth, low-latency connectivity without dependency on ground-based systems.

What is the key to extending zero trust to the edge and the individual user?

The simplest answer is extending identity to the tactical edge. We need to architect identity solutions that allow us to authenticate and properly authorize access under edge conditions. We need a zero-trust framework that empowers users at the edge to reach back to and communicate with the enterprise while fully recognizing the context of those connections. Cryptographic services need to be designed to address edge threat actors. In addition to encrypting data in transit and at rest, we need to employ architectural patterns like network microsegmentation to reduce risk of lateral movement in the case of compromise. Finally, we need to be able to monitor and manage edge systems and users under these variable environmental conditions.

What do you think is the next great technology trend?

I am excited about the advancements in data processing units (DPUs) and similar silicon architectures. DPUs are like mini datacenters on a chip and are well suited for the constraints of edge AI/ML computing environments. I also expect a continued explosion of edge innovation that results from commoditizing hardware, software and network platforms and avoiding the single-use static configurations we see in the field today.

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