Located in Arlington, Virginia, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is an executive branch of the United States Department of Defense that strives to find new technologies that help support operations for the Navy and Marine Corps. Faced with a lengthy and expensive research and development process, the Disruptive Business Technologies office at ONR wanted to explore new ways to rapidly deploy new capabilities to military personnel. The organization worked with Inca X and other technology partners to implement a proof-of-concept, cloud service-based solution that is built on Windows Azure and interoperates with smartphones, encryption technologies, and other off-the-shelf products. As a result of the project, ONR demonstrated its ability to rapidly develop and deploy new capabilities, found a cost-effective solution, and improved its ability to deliver innovative solutions.Situation
An executive branch agency within the United States Department of Defense, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides technical advice to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of Navy in an effort to support innovative military operations for the Navy and Marine Corps. Its mission is to foster, plan, facilitate, and use scientific research to enable future naval power and the preservation of national security.
To support its mission, ONR has a Disruptive Business Technologies group. Disruptive technologies are those innovations that create a new—and unexpected—competitive advantage by applying a different set of values beyond those that are traditionally accepted. To the group, that means examining the intersection of commercially available and emerging technologies as a way to address business and military operations in an industry that is dominated by highly-customized and specialized technologies.
||By using Windows Azure, we proved that we can take off-the-shelf technologies, integrate them for a complete solution, and deploy robust capabilities into our operations in a timely fashion.
Director of Disruptive Business Technologies, Office of Naval Research
The ONR Disruptive Business Technologies group wanted to adopt an open and disruptive innovative framework—one that would shorten the amount of time typically associated with the research and development efforts that ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies dedicates to introducing new capabilities into Naval operations. ONR traditionally relies on lengthy research and development processes that are grounded in science. These lengthy processes mean that it can take anywhere from 5 to 20 years to develop new capabilities to a level of maturity that they can be deployed to active military personnel in the field. In addition, with years of development work, the process is typically expensive.
Instead, ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies group wanted to use technologies that are built on open standards and commercially-available—as an innovative way to solve complex military problems. “We want to move away from the idea that we have to force ourselves to start from a blank canvas,” says Dano DeBroux, Director of Disruptive Business Technologies at the Office of Naval Research. “We want to get away from re-invention and re-creation and instead use off-the-shelf technology that we can package together to enable military capabilities and, in theory, reduce costs and the timeline associated with delivering those capabilities to the field.”
The group wanted to address certain capabilities while proving that an open and innovative framework would be an effective, efficient, and less expensive model to implement. It wanted to demonstrate that disruptive innovations could serve as a complement to traditional research and development, which will always be a critical component in creating new capabilities. Specifically, it wanted to replace manual solutions for some field operations that traditionally meant using two-way radio communications and manual, paper-based event logs. ONR sought to improve three areas with an open and innovative framework:
Command and control—by gaining the ability to be able to geographically locate in near real-time any field assets or military personnel and what they are doing
Information sharing—by achieving the ability to share any information—from phone calls to rich-media, such as video—between command and ground personnel
Event reconstruction—by adding the ability to capture events, such as field training exercises, and analyze those events to improve learning opportunities
As a way to assess if the open and disruptive framework was a viable, cost-effective, and timely method for deploying new capabilities, ONR allowed for a two-week project timeline and minimal budget. “With budget and timeframe constraints in place, it prohibits us from building a custom solution that would address each of these areas,” explains DeBroux. “We had to canvas commercially-available and mature technologies, pull them together rapidly, and hope there was little to no learning curve, because there simply wouldn’t be time to do anything else. That was our challenge.”Solution
The Office of Naval Research Disruptive Business Technologies department worked with Innovation Business Partners to formalize its innovation framework and compress the timelines under which it can add new capabilities to the field. Innovation Business Partners is a company that works with government and high-growth commercial companies to help them create a standard of excellence for the processes of innovation, invention, and intellectual property.
Evaluated and Integrated Multiple Technologies for Proof-of-Concept Project
With the theory framework in place, ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies started a proof-of-concept project to test off-the-shelf technologies to address its command and control, information sharing, and event reconstruction scenarios. The organization turned to Inca X, which provides software with global positioning systems (GPS), geocasting, data broadcast, and rich media capabilities in near real time. The Inca X software and server applications run in the cloud on Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment. Windows Azure provides on-demand compute, storage, networking
, and content delivery capabilities through Microsoft data centers.
One developer from Inca X ported the Inca X software, which is built on Microsoft ASP.NET with the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional development system, to Windows Azure in five days. In addition to the hosting and service management, the company used Blob storage in Windows Azure to store binary data, such as video and geo-location data.
Proved Technology with Operational Scenarios
Smartphones running the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system
Telecommunications services from AT&T, TerreStar, and TotalMobile
KoolSpan TrustCenter and a KoolSpan relay server for voice encryption
Bing Maps platform for geographic and location-based information
Windows Live Mesh for synchronizing and sharing information across devices
A web-based user interface based on Microsoft Silverlight 3 browser technology and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, both of which contributed to a rich environment for accessing and analyzing information
ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies department used the three scenarios that it hoped to improve to demonstrate that Inca X, Windows Azure, and other components of the solution are viable technologies for complex military processes.
||We could identify, scope, and deploy new capabilities to support operational scenarios for ONR in a matter of minutes or hours. On any other platform than Windows Azure…, it would have taken days—and time was not a luxury we had for this project.
Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Inca
For the command and control scenario, each military operator in the field had a smartphone running Windows Mobile 6.1, with the Inca X software served to the smartphone through Windows Azure. The device provided real-time GPS and geotracking capabilities, which command operators used to locate field personnel at any time through a dashboard based on Microsoft Silverlight
and Bing Maps
. The smartphones were also equipped with video capabilities. Video capture could be initiated from either command operators or field personnel, enabling what ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies calls “situational awareness”—or understanding where field personnel are and what they are doing at all times.
To enable information sharing, ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies group used short message service (SMS) messages to communicate to field personnel and simple forms accessed through Office SharePoint Server 2007 to log and share operational activities. In addition, the smartphone devices automatically captured geo-location information, which was stored in Windows Azure and could be easily retrieved and shared with other field personnel and command operators. If field personnel captured video or still pictures on their smartphones, they could also save those to Windows Live Mesh folders, which were synchronized across all devices, enabling them to quickly and easily share information to other personnel participating in a training exercise.
ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies group proved the technology through event reconstruction exercises. During the exercises, the Inca X software captured large amounts of data on field personnel’s location, speed, directional movements, and altitude, and stored that information in Blob storage. After the exercise, ONR accessed the data that was captured during the exercise and reconstructed the training events with precision. With a reliable report of actual events, instead of a handwritten log of approximations, ONR could use the event reconstruction intelligence for further training exercises and tactical improvements.
“If you take Windows Azure and combine it with smart devices and other off-the-shelf technologies, you end up with a platform for creativity and can build very powerful capabilities,” says Gary Markovits, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Innovation Business Partners. “By using Windows Azure, you get the ability to manage large amounts of intelligence that you’d never be able to otherwise, whether it’s military intelligence or business intelligence.”Benefits
As a result of choosing a solution that is built on Windows Azure and that integrates several commercially available technologies, the Office of Naval Research Disruptive Business Technologies department demonstrated its ability to take off-the-shelf products and combine them with an innovation framework to deliver new operational capabilities. The organization quickly developed and deployed the solution, meeting its two-week deadline; achieved a cost-effective solution through the pay-as-you-go model
that Windows Azure offers; and improved its ability to innovate.
Developed and Deployed Rapidly
Inca X quickly ported its existing solution to Windows Azure, requiring no custom development work. Already familiar with Microsoft developer technologies, such as ASP.NET, the one developer who worked on the project drew from his existing skills and ported the server-side application in only five days. After the initial migration process, Inca X also quickly added new capabilities to the solution to support the proof-of-concept exercises and iterative design processes. “We could identify, scope, and deploy new capabilities to support operational scenarios for ONR in a matter of minutes or hours,” says Phil Bishop, Founder and Chief Technical Officer at Inca X. “On any other platform than Windows Azure along with Visual Studio, it would have taken days—and time was not a luxury we had for this project.”
||By using Windows Azure, you get the ability to manage large amounts of intelligence that you’d never be able to otherwise, whether it’s military intelligence or business intelligence.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Innovation Business Partners
In addition, ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies group also benefited from the rapid development cycle, allowing itself only two weeks to prove the technology. Instead of relying on its traditionally lengthy research and development process that can take up to 20 years to complete before releasing a new capability, ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies team relied on the open standards and interoperability that Windows Azure offers in order to rapidly integrate existing products and technologies, such as Inca X and various telecommunications services, and develop and deploy new military capabilities. “By using Windows Azure, we proved that we can take off-the-shelf technologies, integrate them for a complete solution, and deploy robust capabilities into our operations in a timely fashion,” says DeBroux. Achieved Cost-Effective Solution
By using Windows Azure, ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies team has in place a cost-effective solution that enables it to pay only for the resources it uses
. During the exercises, the group can have up to 200 users accessing the solution, but once the exercise is completed, no one is accessing it. “By using Windows Azure, you’re not investing in infrastructure that doesn’t have constant demand,” explains DeBroux. “We could peak at 200 users and then be down to zero users until the next training exercise starts. If we had to rely on an on-premises infrastructure, or any other traditional client-server model,
we’d be paying for resources even when they’re sitting idle, but with Windows Azure, we only have to pay for the demand relevant to a particular operation.”
Improved Ability to Innovate
ONR’s Disruptive Business Technologies department also improved its ability to innovate by using Windows Azure and proving that an innovation framework, coupled with off-the-shelf technologies that easily interoperate, was a viable approach to delivering new military capabilities. “By using Windows Azure and integrating with other readily-available technologies, we’ve improved our ability to innovate. Instead of spending years on custom development, we can create a new solution in just two weeks. We can rapidly test any new capabilities that we dream up. It’s the ‘art of the possible’ with Windows Azure,” explains DeBroux.
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:
Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies.
Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.
AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.
Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket. Developers and information workers can use the new service DataMarket to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
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