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What’s Big: Government, Data, Cloud, Opportunity, Money

Turns out there’s a big cloud forming over Washington, DC.  And it could change forecasts in many places.

In a March 29, 2012 release, the White House announced the  “Big Data Research and Development Initiative.”  The intent is ambitious: to improve “our ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of digital data, the initiative promises to help solve some the Nation’s most pressing challenges.”

There will be a US$200 billion commitment from six US federal agencies (aligned with some specific initiatives): The National Institute of Health (1000 Genome on a cloud  project), The Department of Defense (automated decision making), the National Science Foundation (data analytics, visualization, distribution), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (new analytic tools and techniques for imperfect data),  the Department of Energy (coordinating university access to analytic and visualization tools for large data sets), and the US Geological Survey (grants for projects using advanced tools to  “improve our understanding of issues such as species response to climate change, earthquake recurrence rates, and the next generation of ecological indicators”).

Commenting on the announcement, Reuven Cohen, writing in Forbes, said  “One of the more interesting aspects of this project is the use of public cloud infrastructure, as in cloud computing services provided by the private industry.”  Cohen says the NIH project is an example: “the current 1000 Genomes Project data set is a prime example of big data, where  data sets become so massive that few researchers have the computing power to make  best use of them. AWS is storing the 1000 Genomes Project as a publicly available  data set for free and researchers only will pay for the computing services that they use.”  The NIH is using the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

Cohen notes that this initiative may be related to “a larger strategy to reduce the number of federal data centers from the current  3,133 data centers sliced by ‘at least 1,200′ by 2015, representing a roughly 40% cutback at a $5 billion savings.”

The initiative is also related to the White House’ Cloud First Policy, authored by Vivek Kundra U.S. Chief Information Officer, which promotes use of private sector innovations in the government.  The  Strategy says: “Cloud computing offers the government an opportunity to be more efficient, agile, and innovative through more effective use of IT investments, and by applying innovations developed in the private sector. If an agency wants to launch a new innovative program, it can quickly do so by leveraging cloud infrastructure without having to acquire significant hardware, lowering both time and cost barriers to deployment.”

This is a big, and ambitious project.  In making the announcement, Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said: “In the same way that past Federal investments in information-technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education, and national security.”

As big as the Internet, eh?  Well time will tell.  At least he didn’t get too excited and compare it to the Facebook IPO.

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