astro.pngThis year marks NASA’s 56th anniversary. It’s incredible to look at the speed and significance of the innovation they accomplished in little more than a half-century. In their first year of operations, they launched Explorer-I, the first U.S. satellite. A decade later, they stunned the world by putting a man on the moon. Since that milestone in human achievement, NASA developed the International Space Station, put a roving research tool on the surface of Mars, and they’ve taught us all about the universe, the stars, and our own planet.


Despite their massive achievements and contributions to society, their internal IT operations function a lot like yours. NASA is an enterprise-level organization, with just over 18,000 employees, and their IT department deals with common IT challenges, such as BYOD, big data, and cloud computing.


Segmenting BYOD Services


Similar to their methodical pre-launch checks, NASA takes mobile security seriously. Enterprise Applications Service Executive, John Sprague, recently explained how NASA created different permissions levels based on user demographics, the data being accessed, and considerations for network access points – the who, what, and where of BYOD.


Mobile network users fall into four groups:

  • Visiting scientists and experts
  • Interns
  • Vendors
  • Employees


Each group is then further categorized based on how and what they are accessing through the network:

  • Duration
  • Vetted identity or not
  • Risk levels
  • Access and usage patterns
  • Data types

Increasingly IT organizations have adopted this approach, including Intel’s own IT department, where we established a granular trust model to improve BYOD security.


Managing Hundreds of Terabytes an Hour


As you can imagine, a large research organization like NASA amasses huge amounts of data – where petabytes are as common as astronaut candidates.


(Fun Fact: There were 6,100 astronaut applicants in 2013)


While the scale of NASA’s big data challenge can dwarf many enterprise organizations, the challenges (data collection and storage) and opportunities (analysis and actionable insights) are the same. In this recent Information Week article, Chris Mattman, a principal investigator for the Big Data initiative at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory says that while some projects are focused on retention and data stewardship, “[t]here are a lot of active analytics and analysis problems that [researchers] are more interested in than necessarily keeping the data around."


While your IT organization may not be trying to predict global climate change by measuring polar ice thickness or finding ways to improve fuel optimization during a trip to Mars, the ability to streamline warehouse operations, optimize an ecommerce program, or improve customer retention with analytics are vital to your company’s survival.


As I discovered NASA’s big data approach, I drew three conclusions:


  • Manage Data: Don’t let it manage you. Decide what data to collect, keep, and discard based on business need.
  • Embrace Open Source: Solutions like Hadoop are helping to gain cost efficiencies and analyze new sets of data.
  • Stay constantly curious: Rather than feeling intimidated by the amount and type of data, focus on what it may tell you or help you discover.


Using Cloud As An Innovation Platform


In June of 2014, NASA launched another program with the goal of tapping into the wealth of knowledge and curiosity shared by the scientific, mathematic, and tech communities. The OpenNex challenge provides public access to a trove of earth sciences data and cloud-based computational resources, allowing people to help solve problems and develop new approaches to use information.


Organizations are increasingly using crowdsourcing and gamification as a means to improve services, develop necessary skills, and solve problems. Earlier this year, Intel and Kaggle partnered to sponsor a contest to encourage data scientists to compete for prizes by developing models that would best predict the winners of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament.


Intel IT also recently implemented an internal crowdsourcing effort by reaching out to our 90,000 employees for ideas. The results allowed our IT department to provide employees with new workplace capabilities and tools they need and want.


Aiming Higher for IT Services


Ultimately, while NASA’s operations and goals likely differ significantly from those of your organization, I believe that all IT departments – regardless of industry – have more in common than they realize. We all strive to learn from our environment, to enable our company’s employees to operate at the highest level, and to provide “out of this world” experiences for our customers.


To help IT organizations tackle these challenges, the Intel IT Center has developed 3-part email series that provide the fundamentals, tools to develop step-by-step plans and evaluate solutions on the following topics:


Enterprise Mobility

Big Data

Hybrid Cloud


Before I sign off, I’d like to wish NASA a big congrats on 56 years of technology innovation.