Sunday, January 22, 2012

A New Task for DoD: Connecting Internet to "Things"

The sizing of the DoD cloud environment may be shaped by the rapid advent of the “Internet of Things” (IOTH) in the next ten years. IOTH is defined as: “A Wireless Web of Devices Managed by Cloud Intelligence.” In IOTH every round of artillery will be tracked from the munitions depot to the gun that fires it. Every inventoried avionics part will be located and found wherever it may be stored. Every crate full of armor vests will be identified and accounted for. IOTH will trace, indefinitely, billions of items that are currently maintained in inventory but extremely difficult to monitor as they move.

Although computers have always been embedded in physical devices as controllers, the significant change that is taking place now is the ability to connect even the most inexpensive devices, such as using cheap Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFIDs), to the Internet. What has changed is the potential of connecting the number of DoD “things” to the Internet. The number of the required connections exceeds by several orders of magnitude the number of items that are currently monitored by DoD systems.

Cloud computing, which can be defined as “… Internet-scale services hosted in massive datacenters” enables ubiquitous web searches and access to hosted software. It also provides the analytics that enable mobile devices to adapt and personalize behavior, for example, by using their GPS location to find the most efficient way of hauling items from a depot. The cloud is the glue that binds the Internet of Things. It makes possible the cooperation by means of ubiquitous networks, shared data and cloud-based agents. IOTH offers the benefits in regulating the load on the communications grid. It increases the deployment of applications.

The cloud also offers platforms for building complex services that make Internet-connected devices far more than up-to-date replacements for the previous generation of “dumb” devices. The cloud can store data that is always accessible, in real time, to a large number of separate processes. It provides computing resources sufficient for the meshing of several applications into a coherent picture.

However, the IOTH computers embedded in individual devices will be always limited by cost, power, and size constraints, which in turn will bound the versatility and sophistication of the software that can run directly on them. There is no question that DoD will have to move in the direction of IOTH in order to replace the large number of existing logistics applications, which are neither interoperable nor efficient.

The deployment of IOTH technologies raises many challenges in security and privacy particularly as electronically connected network-connected devices are open to malicious attacks. Although improvements in hardware and software can raise barriers for increased security, DoD will have to make changes in policy in order to put in place mechanisms that will enforce the safeguarding of billions of devices located anywhere on the globe.

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