Feature Story

The Cloud And The Final Frontier: Any Device, Any Data, Any Time

by Melissa Jun Rowley

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is pushing into the public cloud for storing science plans and computation for its Mars Exploration Rovers.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is pushing into the public cloud for storing science plans and computation for its Mars Exploration Rovers. JPL's use of the cloud and its harnessing of the proliferation of devices is not only helping the organization improve internal and external communications, its bringing the space age and the digital landscape on earth closer to intersecting.

As NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) soars further into the 21st century, technological advancements in cloud computing, telepresence, and IT infrastructure trends are helping the robotic exploration center develop an "any device, any data, anytime " mantra, while improving performances and cut costs in space-based missions. JPL currently uses 10 different clouds, both public and private for orchestration, computing, storage, and autoscaling in Mars Rover projects.

"Cloud computing is a game changer," said JPL's Chief Technology Officer Tomas Soderstrom. "We've been experimenting in cloud computing for the past four years with good results. Everyone is engaged in a collaborative effort to help JPL and NASA." 

As for how the cloud is being used in space—it's not...yet. Soderstrom says that while cloud computing is practiced in preparation for just about every Mars Rover mission, as well as computing the results, the cloud doesn't actually fly in space. However, this will likely change in the future.

Disqus: So much data, so many choices. How has the increased demand for information changed the way JPL operates?

Just as the cloud is moving toward omnipresence, mobility and telepresence are pervading JPL's network. The proliferation of devices is a major driver of evolution in transmitting data within the organization.

"We believe that the future is to enable us to work with anyone from anywhere using any device and any data at any time," shared Soderstrom.  "How do you reconcile this with shrinking budgets that say ‘don't travel?' One obvious way is via video conferencing. However, it has to be very, very simple for the IT consumer (aka the end user), and they have to be able to use any device from anywhere. That's our current journey and we're making good progress."

JPL allows employees to enjoy a broad selection of mobile gadgets, and users are adopting them en masse. This expansion has increased demand on ubiquitous wireless access AND the demand on JPL's guest network. The net result has ed to the center creating wireless access capability for many more devices. This is just one trend among many that will likely filter into the digital landscape outside of JPL.

Every three years, JPL IT publishes an updated version of the "Industry IT Trends for the Next IT Decade" and presents it to JPL and the industry. Based on sources ranging from publications such as Computer World and Gartner, as well as reports from leadership conferences and participation in industry IT committees and NASA CIO committees, the emerging trends http://www.meritalk.com/blog.php?user=TomSoderstrom include the following.

  • Extreme Collaboration Made Simple – Unified communications; video conferencing from any device to anyone; document management; searching for text in videos; social networking; crowdsourcing
  • Refocused Cyber Security – Secure by enabling and proactively testing new techniques and devices; clouds; encryption; identity management 
  • The Pervasive Cloud – Virtualization of servers, networks, desktops, and mobile devices; failover techniques; using multiple clouds; cloud-oriented-architecture; cloud brokering; securing of clouds; encryption in clouds; monitoring clouds
  • Eco Friendliest – Low energy servers, devices, and approaches; energy dashboards; applications that encourage energy saving
  • Consumer Driven IT – Mobile devices; tablets; drag-drop-share-sync; gaming; etc.
  • You've Got Apps – Rich Mobile applications; HTML5; iOS; Android; mobile app stores; mobile distribution; refocused help desks; synching; games; etc.
  • Immersive Visualization and Interaction – Natural User Interfaces; visualization software and hardware; gaming
  • Big Data – NoSQL; large databases; analytics of all kinds; Hadoop and related technologies; high performance computing in-house and in the clouds; data scientist technologies
  • The Changing Human Behavior – New devices, clouds, social networks, on-demand apps that allow for anything to be searched from anywhere, while a computer "somewhere" determines what users need

Which trends do you think are the most important for businesses and consumers to follow?

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