NASA relying heavily on cloud to improve innovation

As cloud integration continues to pick up steam among federal agencies, the technology's impact is growing. Departments are increasingly coming to rely on the cloud for a wide range of purposes, from simple email hosting to data storage and beyond.

Arguably the most advanced application of cloud technology in the federal government, though, can be found in NASA. There, scientists and other personnel are using cloud services to develop new, innovative projects, as NextGov recently highlighted. 

NASA's cloud strategy
The news source pointed out several highlights of NASA's cloud-based initiatives. For example, the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory runs numerous sophisticated simulations Amazon Web Services' GovCloud. According to the source, these tests can determine whether or not NASA's Asteroid Retrieval Mission or plans to explore Jupiter's moon, Europa, receive funding.

"All these things require very rapid prototyping, and that's what cloud gives us," Tom Soderstrom, chief technology officer for NASA's JPL, said at the recent re:Invent conference, the source reported. "Cloud is an innovator accelerator."

Soderstrom added that NASA's Mars Curiosity rover feeds millions of data points into the GovCloud in real-time, providing unparalleled insight.

Cloud benefits
As Soderstrom told the news source, cloud integration has not just delivered a new level of performance for NASA's operations – it also provided major cost savings. He pointed out that the recent Mars Curiosity rover mission collected 10 times as much data while being more than 100 times more cost effective than NASA's previous Mars landing mission nine years earlier.

NextGov reported that thanks to cloud computing's affordability, NASA is able to take advantage of technologies that would otherwise prove cost-prohibitive. Most notably, JPL researchers can spin up virtual machines in order to conduct complex model-based engineering simulations. 

Not only would these operations prove too expensive without the cloud – they would also be extremely time-consuming. Soderstrom told the news source that a single administrator can run a complex model simulation during a single weekend by leveraging the agency's cloud resources. If relying on a traditional data center, these simulations would likely take months to complete. 

Moving forward
To a significant degree, NASA's experience with the cloud is indicative of cloud trends within the broader federal government. Agencies begin by embracing the cloud in a limited capacity, then move on to more widespread adoption. The benefits accrue and expand, making the cloud an invaluable resource for every department.

However, there are caveats that must be accounted for. As cloud operations expand, the number of employees using these resources grows. While this will increase the potential value offered by the technology, it also increases the potential for cybersecurity incidents to occur. After all, human error is the single most common cause of data breaches for countless organizations. And the cloud, while not exactly new, is still relatively unfamiliar to many federal workers.

This means that government agencies must take steps to ensure that workers understand best practices and follow cybersecurity guidelines as they use cloud services more frequently and in new ways.