The Public Eye with Eric Chabrow

Lessons Learned from NASA's Cloud Initiatives

Lessons Learned from NASA's Cloud Initiatives

As an editor at Time Inc. in the early 1980s, I helped create an electronic news service that would be a precursor to today's Internet website. Since the teletext technology was state-of-the-art and never developed in this fashion, my boss brought in an expert to speak to our mostly twentysomething and thirtysomething team to get us to think outside the box. The expert's best piece of advice: act like a kid.

Most adults are hesitant to experiment: what terrible thing would happen if I hit that key? (Back then, as babyboomers remember, most people didn't own PCs.) Youngsters, on the other hand, are fearless; they'll bang away at the keyboard with no dread of its results, and they learn from their boldness.

Tom Soderstrom is no kid; he's chief technology officer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the NASA unit that manages the space agency's probes to Mars and the other planets. Soderstrom helps lead the JPL team that's implementing a wide variety of cloud computing initiatives. Not to oversimplify, but Soderstrom hasn't met a cloud type - public, private, hybrid, community - that he didn't want to try out. He's as fearless as an 11 year old.

I interviewed Soderstrom this week (our conversation will soon be posted on, and he counseled others:

"Don't wait; prototype now. Try it now because then you will learn what IT security issues you have, then you can figure out which data you want to put in cloud and not put into the cloud.

Among JPL's cloud initiatives are citizen-facing ones about NASA's extraplanetary missions that do not contain sensitive or classified information but the knowledge garnered could be applied when a higher degree of data protection is needed. Said Soderstrom:

"We could learn all the lessons and all the best practices from the outside and apply them on the inside if you needed to. We could take those same lessons learned and apply them to a private cloud just as easily to the public cloud but not have to reinvent everything."

When prototyping, engage everyone: your organization's business, IT, outside partners and vendors, Soderstrom advised, adding:

"This is not an IT win; it's a business win. ... We don't use IT terms, but we use business terms, in our case it's exploring space."

When the stakeholders gather, Soderstrom said the group can brainstorm on what data they feel comfortable putting on the cloud and how the information can be protected. He said:

"When everything is that new, everybody is learning. It's been a very good experience."

Such experimentation isn't kids stuff anymore.

About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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