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Getting to the cloud through space – how satellites are powering a digital revolution

When people talk about cloud computing and cloud resources, one of the first images that come into people’s minds is cloud storage – things like DropBox or Google Drive where they can host files and photos and access them from anywhere with an Internet connection. And that might make them wonder why today’s government agencies and military organizations would care so much about the cloud.

But the cloud means a lot more to the military today than just access to files and data from anywhere. That’s because the role of the cloud is evolving as the government and military are increasingly focused on modernization and digital transformation.

Today, the bare metal that once housed all government and military applications and systems – whether they were mainframes or servers in dedicated data centers – is being replaced by modern infrastructures that connect physical resources with on-premise, off-premise, or hybrid cloud architectures. And there’s a good reason for that.

Applications and software are starting to take an oversized role in how today’s government agencies and military organizations operate. Applications help them automate mundane, repetitive jobs. They analyze data to find relationships and actionable insights. They increase operational efficiency by giving civilian and uniformed personnel new capabilities and tools to use in their tasks and as they work towards accomplishing their mission. And those applications are being developed and deployed in new ways.

The cloud-native applications that are coming out of today’s modern application development teams are built in pieces as microservices. And they’re built in containers that live on cloud resources that are provisioned and defined by Infrastructure as Code (IaC) solutions. They’re then deployed to modern infrastructure that incorporates cloud resources that can be provisioned quickly, scaled to meet requirements, and enable increased and remote access.

With the cloud becoming so essential to the applications that are transforming how our government agencies and military organizations operate, it makes sense that access to the cloud is an important consideration for the government.

But what does that have to do with satellites?

Cloud connectivity from virtually anywhere
Many of the places today’s military and government agencies operate are places that they would consider Disconnected, Intermittent, Limited bandwidth (DIL) environments. These are locations where terrestrial networks don’t exist – such as geographically remote and isolated locations. Or they’re places where terrestrial networks have been denied or are untrusted – like the locations where our military is often deployed.

When users have to operate in DiIL environments, it significantly hampers access to the cloud. And that means there’s no access to the next-generation applications and software solutions that are becoming essential for military and government operations.

Satellites can enable that connectivity.

“…today’s commercial satellite providers are partnering with the largest providers of public and private cloud resources to ensure direct connectivity to their clouds. That means dedicated cross-connects and cloud infrastructure are being integrated within the teleports of commercial satellite providers to ensure…unfettered, direct connectivity into cloud infrastructure and resources.”

In fact, with the evolution of high-throughput satellites operating at Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), commercial satellite services can deliver fiber-like connectivity. This means that today’s satellite providers can not only ensure that cloud resources are accessible, but that they’re accessible with a user experience on-par with today’s high-bandwidth terrestrial networks.

But it’s not enough to just connect military users to the Internet and have them access their cloud-native applications and cloud resources through there. That arrangement denies the military the security and control that it demands in its IT infrastructure and networks. It also makes it nearly impossible for satellite providers to guarantee a specific SLA since there are simply too many external factors at play.

To get around this problem, today’s commercial satellite providers are partnering with the largest providers of public and private cloud resources to ensure direct connectivity to their clouds. That means dedicated cross-connects and cloud infrastructure are being integrated within the teleports of commercial satellite providers to ensure that military users have unfettered, direct connectivity into their cloud infrastructure and resources.

And – in the very near future – the same satellite equipment leveraged today by tactical users to connect in the field will be deployed to CSPs and government facilities to ensure that satellite connectivity reaches directly into their data centers. This gives military users the flexibility of either having cloud infrastructure in the teleport, or satellite hardware in their data centers.

As cloud-native applications, cloud storage for important mission data, and digital transformation initiatives gain importance across the military, it becomes essential that access to clouds is enabled from anywhere.

Commercial satellite providers are working hard to ensure military users have that access wherever they are in the world – and that their user experience is on-par or better than what they have at home. And they’re accomplishing that by working hand-in-hand with the cloud providers that the military increasingly depends on.

 

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