What kind of cloud computing environment do you get for $6M?

Air Force wants one that can cut through cyber attacks to deliver data

The US Air Force said today it would spend $6 million to set up a state-of-the-art cloud computing research center at the University of Illinois.  The Air Force's Assured Cloud Computing (ACC) Center, will focus on developing technology to ensure mission critical data can get through the cloud securely and sometimes in the face of a cyberattack or other interference.

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According to the Air Force, specific areas it is looking to develop include cloud monitoring, virtual machine design, formal protocol design, information and mission assurance. Additional expected areas of expertise include: estimation theory in local and global environments, theory for the design and analysis of communication protocols, and management of computational and communications resources. Collaborations between the Air Force's Research Laboratory Technology Directorate and researchers towards advances and applications in these technical areas will then enable specific ways to model, characterize, design, and manage commercial and military systems, and capture and predict the performance of these systems under many diverse conditions.

According to the university, a computational cloud used in military applications may include both blue and gray networks, where "blue" networks are U.S. military networks, which are considered secure, and "gray" networks are those in private hands, or perhaps belonging to other nations, which are considered insecure. In order to reach mission goals, it will sometimes be necessary to coordinate computation across a mixture of these blue and gray resources. Thus, cloud computing in a military context presents special security challenges. Specifically, assured mission-critical cloud computing across blue and/or gray networks requires the realization of "end-to-end" and "cross-layered" security, dependability, and timeliness.

"We're trying to offer the military extended functionality, to implement a vision of global vigilance, global reach, and global power giving us the ability to meet overseas commitments," said  Dr. Roy Campbell, the principal investigator for the ACC Center in a release. "If we can use a variety of secure networks plus insecure networks, it gives us lots of agility and mobility and the ability to manage situations where normally we wouldn't be able to reach."

This isn't the Air Force's first foray into cloud computing.  In 2010 it contracted with IBM to design a cloud computing system secure enough to support defense and intelligence networks.  That 10-month project will utilize IBM's "stream computing," a technique for real-time analysis of thousands of data streams that would be used to detect and prevent malicious attacks and system failures.

Military networks have always been resilient and robust with extensive failover capabilities, important attributes for tasks such as monitoring aircraft flight or planning a mission, David McQueeney, the CTO for IBM's federal government business told Network World in an interview. The challenge is achieving the same reliability while also having the efficiency and flexibility of a cloud platform, he said.

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