In the greater lore of the Star Wars universe, there is a special kind of memory storage device called a Holocron. To most people, most of the time, it is an inert polyhedron. To Force-sensitives, a holocron will open up, revealing its secret to anyone with the right affinity to activate it, be they Jedi or Sith. What might one call a storehouse of information irrelevant to everybody but the people with the most capacity to use it for benefit or harm?
Well, we might call it “the cloud.”
As euphemisms and branding go, the cloud is perfect. It conveys the idea of a location ephemeral and out of touch yet every present and useful. This lofty metaphor obscures that, at heart, cloud computing involves putting data into servers controlled by a distant party. The cloud is, as the quip goes, just someone else’s computer.
The utility of the cloud is hard to overstate. This newsletter was written in a word processor that relies on the cloud. That data can itself be mined for further insight, as, say, an entire branch of the armed forces cross-references its maintenance records against each other, anticipating new warning signs for wear and tear that would be hard to anticipate without such a massive data pool to process.
That the cloud is both a useful tool and a pathway into secure networks explains why the Pentagon has not yet moved the overwhelming majority of its data to the cloud, and why the stakes are so high for when the change eventually comes.
I’m Kelsey D. Atherton, reporting from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
That the Pentagon’s big cloud project is named “Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure,” or JEDI, is an amusing case of backronym-smithing. That the Department of Defense announced the winner of the JEDI contract in the lead-up to a new Star Wars film is more inevitable coincidence.
The finer details of the JEDI contract are best handled by Federal Times. For our purposes here, what is compelling about the military cloud is what it will enable in the future.
While the announcement framed the cloud contract as ultimately a victory for the servicemembers in closest contact with adversaries, the immediate boons will be seen in the database analysis side. A lot of cloud-enabled software exists in the commercial as the free entry point for people to opt-in to surrendering their data. It is this data that has fueled the commercial insights, largely though not exclusively used to market advertising, that power modern-day Silicon Valley. Programs set to mine cloud-stored data will inform military planners about the habits of people logging in to the system, about needs felt minutely but hard to see without an aggregate picture.
Dedicated, onsite computing will continue in places where connectivity is an issue. Autonomous systems, especially those designed to operate in denied environments, will rely on their own onboard processing, but the power points that outline doctrine for how those robots will be used? Those will be in the cloud. As will the emails between staff officers and commanders.
What matters most for the JEDI Cloud beyond that is how secure it keeps the information inside it, and how nicely JEDI plays with tools built with the expectation of a military cloud in mind. The existence of a military cloud will shape future development around it. Any device designed to connect to this cloud will be a possible entry point for nefarious actors. There is real risk in creating an internet of things that do lethality.
The nature of the JEDI, the security and the functionality and the interoperability, will be far more important in the end than which specific massive company builds the cloud. What matters, after all, isn’t the ability to access the Force. It’s what people choose to do with it.