INSCOM points toward greater use of open standards

world map connected to laptop PC

The Army Intelligence and Security Command’s recent deployment of a large-scale geospatial database is hard evidence of the increasing government demand for IT solutions based on open standards, according to a manager on the project.

The federal government “wants to move toward more open standards as opposed to being locked into one vendor from this standpoint,” Bill Mannel, SGI’s general manager of compute services, told FCW. Open, or non-proprietary, standards help contain costs, he added, which is of prime concern to defense officials in lean budget times.

SGI, a computing firm based in Milpitas, Calif., is supplying a 10-terabyte platform on which the database, made by Global Intelligence Solutions Federal, can run. The searchable geospatial database pulls in real-time data from myriad sources, using such variables as location, time and magnitude.

The Intelligence and Security Command is meant to be the Army’s one-stop-shop for all forms of intelligence. The recently deployed geospatial database provides INSCOM with heat maps and other visual aides to pinpoint potential dangers in its operations.

Geospatial databases tend to be high-volume and require a great deal of computing power to rapidly deliver search results. That criterion is what prompted SGI’s participation in the project with INSCOM, Mannel said.

About a fifth of SGI’s patents are tied to its main computing platform, dubbed the UV. The low latencies at which the UV can scale allow users quick access to massive amounts of data, he said. The platform runs on Intel processors, non-proprietary technology that allows other companies to add their own gear to the mix, he explained.

SGI has worked with GIS Federal for several years but the INSCOM project is the first collaboration the pair has announced publicly, Mannel said. His firm has a few other government contracts of comparable size to the INSCOM project, though he declined to elaborate on that work.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper last week described geospatial intelligence as an increasingly important tool of espionage in light of classified leaks by NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Mannel confirmed his firm has seen greater federal and commercial demand for that kind of intelligence recently, adding that the INSCOM project is SGI’s second or third in the field.

INSCOM’s use of the geospatial database could prompt other military departments to follow suit. The Coast Guard and the Marine Corps, for example, have a strong need for geospatial information, and might be interested in how “they can leverage what the Army has done into other services,” Mannel said.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.

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