Amazon Web Services: Taking GEOINT to the Cloud

Q&A with Tom Lash, manager, AWS Federal Delivery Organization


What challenges does AWS help its customers solve?

Today, many enterprise and government customers use AWS Cloud to transform their organizations and businesses. AWS offers the broadest and deepest platform of services and features, and allows our customers to be more agile while reducing their computing costs. Geospatial customers benefit from the elasticity, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of our services, which frees them from having to purchase, maintain, and operate their own servers and data centers, enabling them to focus on differentiated solutions.  

Why is the cloud so important to today’s GEOINT Community?

National security depends on our nation’s ability to stay a step ahead of adversaries by modernizing aging infrastructure and adopting the latest security technologies, which are available in the cloud. The GEOINT Community can move much faster when members embrace a cloud-based architecture and take advantage of new capabilities as soon as they are launched. The cloud allows mission owners to experiment on-the-fly for very little investment, and iterate nearly instantly.  

What are some things federal agencies can do to ensure successful cloud adoption?

AWS uses the Well-Architected Framework as an exemplar for how customers should design their own systems and workloads. The framework helps cloud architects build secure, high-performing, resilient, and efficient infrastructure for their applications. Based on five pillars—operational excellence, security, reliability, performance efficiency, and cost optimization—the framework provides a consistent approach for customers and partners to evaluate architectures and implement designs that will scale over time.

How is AWS contributing to the current revolution in Earth imaging technology?

Tom Lash

The Earth imaging revolution is going to produce an incredible amount of raw data that requires ground processing and efficient data management and dissemination. One of the reasons we developed AWS Ground Station was to support small satellite advancements. Prior to AWS Ground Station, organizations could launch collection platforms, but were faced with millions of dollars on ground collection and processing.

AWS Ground Station eliminates this problem by delivering a global ground station-as-a-service. We provide direct access to AWS services and the AWS Global Infrastructure. This allows users to easily control satellite communications, quickly ingest and process satellite data, and rapidly integrate that data with applications and other services running in the AWS Cloud.

What sorts of AI and machine learning tools does AWS offer?

We provide a wide range of machine learning (ML) services. Amazon SageMaker gives every developer and data scientist the ability to build, train, and deploy ML models quickly. This fully-managed service covers the entire ML workflow to label and prepare data, choose an algorithm, train the algorithm, tune and optimize it for deployment, make predictions, and take action.  

We also have Amazon Comprehend, a natural language processing service that uses machine learning to discover insights and relationships in text. Comprehend is often used as a companion to GEOINT data to provide textual content to imagery from ancillary sources.

What excites you most about the future of GEOINT?

Interest in AI/ML has driven the widespread adoption of new computing methods, including capabilities like AWS Inferentia, a machine learning inference chip designed to deliver high performance at low cost. AWS Inferentia will support the TensorFlow, Apache MXNet, and PyTorch deep learning frameworks.  

AI/ML technologies allow users to interact with geospatial data more naturally, opening GEOINT to a much wider range of users. Complex GIS queries can be replaced by asking simple key intelligence questions, enabling analysts to get answers and make decisions faster.  

I am excited to see customers consolidate and migrate their GEOINT holdings to the cloud to share and collaborate more easily. Recently, I migrated a very large data holding that I helped develop almost a decade ago, and the cloud makes the data more usable and discoverable to a wider range of users.

How has participating in organizations like USGIF helped AWS achieve its goals?

USGIF is a great way to interact with the entire GEOINT Community, including government, industry, and academia. Most AWS services are developed to address direct customer needs and requests; therefore, we benefit tremendously from listening to our customers and understanding how to make challenging problems solvable.

We enjoy working with our integration partners to understand how they are applying our technologies in new and creative ways. This helps us respond with features and services to help them deliver functionality to their customers faster. USGIF does a great job of focusing on the heart of what makes GEOINT unique, and that is the richness and diversity of data in this community.

What are you most looking forward to about GEOINT 2019?  

I have been lucky enough to participate in every GEOINT Symposium since 2004, and it really is the highlight of my year. Last year, we celebrated the launch of WorkSpaces in our Top Secret Region, and this year we will similarly celebrate the launch of AWS Lambda in that region. Lambda is our primary server-less compute service that helps users migrate from traditional servers and virtual machines to simply running code without provisioning or managing servers. It is groundbreaking for GEOINT customers because it allows them to simply run, and perhaps even more importantly, accredit, their code versus virtual infrastructure.


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USGIF Member Spotlight: CGI Federal

Errol McEachron, Senior VP of Consulting Services at CGI and leader of the space and intelligence sector of the company’s Defense, Intelligence, spoke with trajectory about the organization.


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