Viewpoint: The Rise of Edge Computing in Defense
The past year was a time of rapid change for government technology. While bolstering information technology infrastructure that could sustain remote work was a major priority, there’s also been an ongoing revolution at the more remote network edge.
By bringing computational data storage and connectivity resources closer to where it’s being gathered, edge computing saves bandwidth and accelerates response times.
The approach has been around since the 1990s but has gained traction in recent years thanks to advances in data processing and computing and emerging technologies such as virtual reality and 5G.
Edge computing advances life-saving possibilities for warfighters and the defense community. Thanks to edge computing, troops have access to insights in remote locations with little connectivity. Weather conditions, machine performance data and other sensitive information can now be turned into actionable decision-making. As possibilities at the edge advance, these applications continue to expand.
At the same time, with millions of remote workers and strained networks, there’s a greater need for computer power, capacity, and storage closer to another new network edge — home offices. The result is a boom in edge-related hardware, software and applications.
To fully take advantage of possibilities at the edge, the first step is determining how best to deploy such solutions for each unique situation. As an emerging technology, there may not be a prior example or tested solution, and each branch of the department has different circumstances and needs. It is important for senior leaders to evaluate where edge computing is most needed and how to utilize it most efficiently.
For example, how can warfighters in theater — operating under the most extreme of circumstances — have the ability to utilize actionable intelligence where asynchronous operations and connectivity are to be expected?
Once the mission is clear, it’s critical to think about data protection at the edge. As the Defense Department explores new applications, data protection needs to advance along with the possibilities. Considering cyber basics, a smart backup strategy, connectivity and unique requirements for the technology’s footprint at the edge can ensure sensitive data information is reliable and secure.
To ensure security at the edge, strong governance programs are key — beginning with an understanding of what data is being generated as well as how it is processed and transferred. All edge devices must be properly secured despite their less-central location and data should be encrypted at rest and in flight.
The implementation of edge can be an opportunity for the department to place strong cybersecurity practices at the onset. It can use this opportunity to assess its own risk appetites and where it can manage those risks accordingly. For example, if the department continues to move toward a zero-trust model, the approach should be integrated into edge computing applications versus implementing edge and then trying to change it to fit zero trust afterwards.
Additionally, IT security teams can choose to keep certain data at the endpoints, limiting the amount of information that gets sent back to the network and potentially keeping threats away from the data center. Edge computing may provide more endpoints for attack, but it can also prohibit bad actors from reaching the data center and mission-critical resources.
The department also needs to continue to evolve effective data backup and management strategy.
The “3-2-1-1-0” rule suggests three copies of all data sets and information are kept on at least two different media. In addition, the locations should be distributed, with one copy stored offsite in case an entire region or facility is impacted. At least one copy of the data must be immutable, which is essential given the undetected, lingering threats that can be hidden on agency networks and the growth in ransomware.
In choosing a solution, reliability, ease of use and versatile restore options are crucial features for backup — the moment data is lost in a remote location isn’t the right time to discover a backup solution is overly complex. The right solution will include all recovery mechanisms including backup, replication, storage snapshots and continuous data protection.
For the Defense Department, the definition of “edge” may vary from forward operating bases, through operating in theater, to naval vessels and beyond. In these remote locations, connectivity can become a major barrier.
No matter where they are in the world, defense forces need correct and up-to-date information. Mission success depends on it. If a warfighter becomes disconnected from crucial information, there could be a lag in decision-making or lack of vital information while government workers try to reconnect. Every moment disconnected is critical.
This is another place where backup comes in. If the necessary information is available reliably and separately from the network at the edge, defense forces won’t need to depend on connectivity to be productive and complete missions. When warfighters become disconnected, they can operate offline and batch changes at the edge, then connect back to the network when possible. Depending on the need, edge-based deployment can asynchronously or sporadically back up at the edge. This flexibility cuts down disconnect times and increases agility in situations where network connectivity isn’t reliable.
For special operations or forward operating bases, data backup can’t add hardware — more equipment and additional bulk limits room for other mission-critical essentials. In some cases, cloud computing can cut down on additional hardware, but the Defense Department must ensure that the agency has a clear understanding of what the cloud provider is responsible for in terms of backup and protection.
At the edge, software-based solutions can make backup accessible in situations where there is no space to spare. Ideally, this is a complete software platform that provides benefits like scalability and the flexibility to change components whenever needed.
Mike Miller is vice president of federal at Veeam.