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CHIPS Articles: Small cloud points to bright future

Small cloud points to bright future
Virtual lab could cut costs, speed up research and innovation initiatives
By NSWC Port Hueneme Division Public Affairs - April-June 2017
While pursuing master's degrees through the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Brian Meadows and Socrates Frangis were inspired. About a lot of things.

As students, they were impressed by the simplicity of integration into the school's computer system, software and collaboration tools.

They were able to remotely log into an NPS computer system with preloaded software and applications, which allowed them to get to work right away and collaborate with other students.

The benefit of that small but substantial system got stuck in their heads and now is reaping another potential payoff.

Meadows and Frangis are both research scientists working at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme in the Office of Engineering and Technology. Frangis mentors scientists and engineers at the division and is heavily involved in Naval Innovative Science and Engineering (NISE) projects for the command.

Frangis noticed when researchers wanted to begin their approved research projects, which often coincided with a new fiscal year, the individuals spent a lot of time getting the appropriate computer system with necessary software and authorizations. Some researchers waited several months to get the tools they needed to begin, setting them back in their research.

Frangis and Meadows harkened back to their time at NPS and realized they could create a cloud-based platform like they had at the school, which would allow scientists and engineers to hit the ground running on day one. They got approval for the project and began to move forward.

"Much of what we are doing for this environment is modeled off of our experience at our graduate program (at NPS)," Meadows said. "We went into a cloud lab, put our NPS credentials in the browser, and we were presented with a Windows desktop with all of the applications."

The Virtual Innovation and Research Lab (VIRL) is in the early stages of implementation. VIRL is a virtual cluster that will host 25 applications and allow staff researchers and principal investigators for NISE projects to conduct research and innovation initiatives for NSWC Port Hueneme Division.

"This is an innovative technology project," Frangis said. "We know the technology works, but no one has really tried to create a micro-cloud at the Navy-working level."

VIRL creates virtual machines on a remote server. It creates what is known as virtual desktop infrastructure. This is similar to what was done with computers many years ago, when a mainframe computer did all the processing and the end users were on dummy terminal clients. VIRL utilizes a very powerful server. End users have a small, secure, inexpensive Common Access Card-enabled device on their desk called a zero-client, to which they hook up a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Frangis and Meadows are in the first phase of the project. The server currently is being installed. It will be powered up and checked in January, and if there are no issues with the server, the next step is to install and secure the secure the software baseline. Once satisfied the system is in a usable state, they will field a handful of zero-clients for beta testing. Frangis and Meadows are confident the system is going to work, but there is always risk in science and technology (S&T) projects.

"We are attempting to integrate this with the existing Research, Development, Test & Evaluation network to demonstrate a technology which is useful," Frangis said. "We think we can, but that's the risk we are taking with this S&T project. If we're right, the command will have a new expanded capability."

If all goes as planned, VIRL will roll out to up to 250 users in fiscal year 2018.

Once up and running, VIRL will result in cost avoidance by utilizing the zero-client, which costs between $200 and $300 and is significantly less expensive than a development laptop. It is also easier to manage administratively, lowering labor efforts related to software updates and patches. The software baseline has a smaller security footprint, making it more secure than a traditional information technology infrastructure. In addition, it will also save precious research dollars by allowing principal investigators (scientists and engineers) to begin work right away.

In other words, there is a small but powerfully collaborative cloud on the horizon.

NSWC Port Hueneme Division research scientists Brian Meadows, left, and Socrates Frangis, the researchers responsible for the development and launch of the Virtual Innovative Research Lab, stand next to the server that drives the collaboration tool on Feb. 15, 2017. U.S. Navy photo/Released
NSWC Port Hueneme Division research scientists Brian Meadows, left, and Socrates Frangis, the researchers responsible for the development and launch of the Virtual Innovative Research Lab, stand next to the server that drives the collaboration tool on Feb. 15, 2017. U.S. Navy photo/Released
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