Pentagon’s big data strategy taking shape

January 27, 2013

The Pentagon’s adoption of an open-source database management platform signifies a major step forward for federal big data usage and provides hints at the next big data opportunities for contractors.

The roots of this change became publicly known last summer, after the Senate Armed Services Committee released a draft of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization legislation.

The draft noted that the Pentagon wanted to use the National Security Agency’s open-source Accumulo — a software platform based on Google’s BigTable that allows organizations to store massive amounts of data.

But congressional reaction to the proposed use of Accumulo was not warm. Legislators made it clear they would prefer the Defense Department use cheaper commercial programs rather than one developed by a government entity. The final version of the authorization act, signed by President Obama in early January, prescribed that the Pentagon perform an analysis of the alternatives.

Now, the Defense Department is weighing its options. To deploy Accumulo, top officials must make a case to Congress that the software platform is the best available option and provide written justification every quarter through September 2018.

Despite these apparent obstacles, the Pentagon seems to be opting for Accumulo. Public comments made by Defense Information Systems Agency officials indicate work on Accumulo is moving forward.

This development leaves competition for additional advanced analytics and visualization tools wide open — as long as these are compatible with Accumulo.

Indeed, the Defense Department’s interest in Accumulo is only one component of its anticipated big data investments.

Deltek’s report on the outlook for federal big data initiatives predicts that defense big data spending will grow from an estimated $1.9 billion in fiscal 2012 to $2.8 billion in fiscal 2017 at a compound annual growth rate of 8.3 percent.

The military, in particular, appears interested in spending on technology that can optimize its network backbone, which provides the critical pipes and bandwidth required by big data.

DISA also noted last year that it wants high-performance optical networking technologies to allow its network to push data at speeds of 100 gigabytes per second or higher. Building this network is a critical strategic investment for the Pentagon and presents a real business opportunity, even in an era of increased spending cuts.

Alex Rossino is a principal research analyst at Herndon-based Deltek, which conducts research on the government contracting market and can be found at www.deltek.com.

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