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From the time U.S. military response personnel arrived in Haiti following the country's catastrophic 2010 earthquake, 96 hours—four full days—passed before the first data center was operational in theater, according to remarks given by General Eric Vollmecke with the Air National Guard who helped lead the response effort.
In a demonstration using the Cloudcuity Brokerage and Management Portal on Sept. 12, NJVC Vice President and General Manager, Cloud Services, Kevin Jackson brought a virtual data center live in roughly four clicks.
By the end of the presentation less than two hours later, a demonstration of an international disaster response using the cloud, with the 2010 Haiti Earthquake as the subject, a Network Centric Operations Interoperability Consortium (NCOIC)-led group brought online multinational public and private databases of geospatial data and numerous mobile and desktop applications, enacted security protocols and turned the chaos of response was a cleanly managed workstream. All happened in a fraction of the time it took to plug in the first server in the actual response.
“It’s amazing to think how far come we have come in just three years, to take all the infrastructure required to manage that response, and here we’ve created it in two hours,” Vollmecke said. “To me this is the only way to go.”
It started with the infrastructure and NJVC’s Cloudcuity Cloud Brokerage and Management Portal.
Building networks is currently an expensive and time-consuming element of disaster response. Servers are shipped in, often by military transport. Logistics chains begin as some servers are deployed and some stored, requiring further logistics and manpower to secure. Servers are tested and brought onlin,; cables dropped, power sources located, software installed. All the activities around simply turning servers on represents a vast amount of capital and resources—activities which heal local networks, but do nothing to directly help the wounded or repair local infrastructure.
Even more problematically, deploying servers uses physical cargo space, often in transport planes—space and flight time that could instead be used for shipping and distributing food, medicine, clothing and specialized response equipment, rather than bulky-yet-fragile IT equipment.
These new data centers and networks then remain at the risk of the situation on the ground. Further disaster, be it aftershocks from an earthquake or civil unrest, represent a danger to equipment.
Using a cloud services broker to provision a virtual data center, however, the only danger to infrastructure is spilling coffee on the laptop. The use of manpower is nothing more than clicks of the mouse.
With four clicks, a world of networking opened up.
“This demonstration proved the effectiveness of using the cloud for infrastructure and we strongly hope that this transformative technology will be the new baseline in disaster response,” Jackson said. “The scalability, time-to-live, the ability to have data centers as a baseline expectation rather than a mission goal can save a tremendous amount of money, and most importantly, time. Through a system like the NCOIC led Geospatial Community Cloud (GCC) Rapid Response, you can have first responders collaborating through mobile apps, accessing geospatial data and managing the crisis almost as soon as the disaster starts."
“In disaster, virtual infrastructure is more than a feature. It’s saving time, it’s saving money, it’s saving lives," Jackson continued.
Using the Cloudcuity Brokerage and Management Portal in the demonstration, Jackson created a geospatial cloud environment and added a failover cloud as a backup precaution, bringing servers online through simple requests—representing nothing more technically demanding than ordering a book from Amazon.
In less time that it would take to load a single rack into a transport plane, whole virtual data centers were opened. Once live, the Cloudcuity Brokerage and Management Portal then allows disaster response personnel to access emergency applications and geospatial data, which are brought online through the portal, then accessible to users through a simple user interface.
“When operating in the extreme circumstances of disaster response, processes need to be simplified or they will simply be discarded,” Jackson said. “With Cloudcuity, it’s very easy for responders to navigate into an application and both access and contribute data.”
While in operation, the Cloudcuity Brokerage and Management Portal can then track utilization, spend and performance, adding an additional layer of transparency to the typically muddy process of determining where dollars were spent and which agency foots the bill. Performance data can then be audited for the improvement of future disaster response.
Total lifecycle infrastructure costs of the cloud are minimal. To keep the geospatial cloud up and running during the course of the demonstration, NCOIC estimated the cost at around $3,000 – $5,000, or less than the cost of many single server purchases. Clouds and applications can routinely be brought live for regular drills at a minimal cost to emergency responders at state, local and federal governments and NGOs, allowing a level of familiarity with the process that's simply not possible in the current physical hardware-based system.
At project or exercise completion, there is no tear-down cost or ongoing logistics chain to return hardware and software to its readiness site.
“Using a cloud services broker for infrastructure speeds up disaster response at the most vital time, and frees up resources at completion, rather than wasting manpower on a completed project,” Jackson said. “It’s a technology to focus effort on disaster response, not on being mobile IT departments.”
The geospatial cloud created for the demonstration supported multiple sources of geospatial data, including domestic and foreign governmental data, as well as that of private companies, like partners Boeing and Google, through translators and service-oriented architecture built into the cloud. Numerous applications from partners like Telos, Raytheon and Winthrop Management Services Group do everything from casualty reports to decision making to predictive analytics were, in the words of NCOIC Director of Business Development Tip Slater, “nearly plug and play” with the cloud.
By the time boots hit the ground, the network and applications would be waiting for them. Once response began, the power of the applications are magnified many times over by effective real-time data sharing—linking responders, survivors and vast databases of information.
As the response intensified or new applications developed for use, added bandwidth and server capacity could be provisioned through the Cloudcuity Brokerage and Management Portal and applications integrated through the interoperability standards in use by the NCOIC.
The demonstration found that even Internet access does not represent a fatal barrier to using the cloud. Restoration of networking and connectivity is a first goal of response efforts and temporary solutions, like backpack-mounted 4G hotspots with an effective radius of one – two kilometers or Wi-Fi based from military ships, can allow enough access to the cloud for first responders to perform their duties.
NCOIC will release the pattern in October, proposed as a process for creating interoperable geospatial clouds in support of future disaster response efforts.
It all starts with just a few clicks in a portal, turning days into seconds during the most critical moments of a lifetime.