When to Use the Spy Satellite
While we are no longer in the technological arms race of the 20th century, there are still many bleeding-edge technologies being used and developed.
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Back when the public had a minor fear of World War III in the back of their mind, a military arms race was underway between the major powers of the world. In order to maintain a competitive advantage, those superpower countries started to employ technology into their arms race.
I recall watching a news program where one country was touting their latest ability from current satellite technology. I watched in awe, as this craft hovering in the atmosphere high above was able to take pictures of the earth below. Then, I became even more fascinated as the macro lens on the camera continued to zoom inward toward the earth. My jaw literally dropped when I was able to make out the license plate of a parked vehicle — which was taken from that same satellite.
Those satellites became known as "spy satellites" and were designed to project the image of "We are watching you" to competing players in that military arms race.
Why Not Today?
Fast-forward to today, when a military arms race is not really an issue. One might wonder, "Why can't these spy satellites be utilized to help solve crime? You know, when a situation is underway and some criminal is on the loose. Wouldn't you think that this awesome technology could be used to help solve a crime on a country's soil?"
I found this article from August 2014, providing an update to this technology.
I would assume that there are quite a few of those devices still floating around in space for national security concerns. So, why not have them pointed in certain areas of the country, so that periodic images could be captured? Then, when a crime takes place, at least there is a hope that the culprit might be captured in one of those images? Maybe even a license plate or photo of those involved.
Of course, I can only imagine there is a high degree of cost to providing ample coverage to make this a reality. Then, there is the aspect of granting access to this information and the potential for a breach of privacy when the images are used for matters unrelated to national security.
This concept made me wonder what "spy satellites" could exist in our IT world today, but are not being employed.
eDiscovery on Steroids
While working in a corporate position, I found myself serving as the liaison between corporate lawyers and all things technology. This particular corporation found itself involved with a significant number of cases which required eDiscovery requests. After gaining some success in writing custom applications to procure and prepare the information necessary, I felt like it was time to consider a full-fledged solution to meet the continued needs of this reality of our business.
During the product evaluation phase, I encountered what was definitely the Mercedes-Benz product of the market. The solution was called "Autonomy" and was built from technologies originating at the University of Cambridge. Those technologies were doing things that would later be considered Big Data concepts — providing a different way to analyze and report unstructured data.
A team of engineers traveled to our office from the UK to demonstrate their product. In their example, they had loaded all the data from the Enron corporation and were able to make links between those involved the scandal with their solution. The demo included 3D graphs illustrating how the data was tied together, revealing the use of birds of prey (like a raven) as code words to communicate information about their unethical practices.
The solution was amazing and was something the legal team was eager to buy and implement. However, the price tag for this solution was 1,188 times more expensive than the next most-qualified competitor. Certainly, the benefit provided certainly did not justify the excessive cost of this product for our needs.
The concept of a blue/green deployment strategy has gained popularity with the evolution of cloud-based computing and hosting. This strategy introduces a duplicate instance of a production environment, but running an upgraded version of some aspect of the environment. The blue environment is the current environment, which continues to handle all the traffic for the application being upgraded. After the green environment is validated, all traffic is transferred over to the green environment and the blue environment becomes idle.
Interestingly, the decision to name this approach blue/green is due to the fact that a majority of languages do not differentiate between the actual colors of blue and green. So using this logic, the blue and green environments are considered the same — but they really are not. This is similar to looking at two items that are the same, except one is painted blue and the other is painted green.
Implementation of blue/green deployments in an on-premises environment would require an investment in hardware. Challenging the situation is the ability to truly provide a duplicate environment, since hardware tends to change quickly and keeping all aspects of two identical environments can be tricky as well.
Of course, with cloud-based solutions, containerization, and declarative implementations, utilizing blue/green deployments are more of a cost concern than anything else.
Super Computer Usage
They go by the names of Summit, Titan, or Sierra and are considered supercomputers — performing computations at a rate of 200 petaflops. To put things into perspective, 200 petaflops is similar to 7 billion people (roughly the world population) solving 30 million math problems per second. These systems are measured in the $100 million+ range to build, with yearly energy costs measured in the millions, as well.
These systems are also available for rental use, allowing the analysis and processing of your organization’s needs to be handled quickly. Perhaps there is a particular aspect of your business which requires a significant amount of time to process — more than you are interested in waiting or (worse yet) more time than you have available to maintain a competitive advantage. In those cases, renting time on one of these amazing supercomputers might be a consideration.
Of course, with this hefty processing comes a hefty price tag. In fact, renting a supercomputer ranked outside of the top 10 list of the most powerful supercomputers was about 100x more expensive than the most expensive option on Amazon AWS. So, expect Summit, Titan, or Sierra to cost even more per hour.
Still, if you need uber fast computing time and have an uber deep wallet, there are options available.
Within IT, there are certainly aspects of technology which present leading-edge options to meet the needs they are focused on delivering against. Like using a spy satellite to capture a criminal, they can help analyze data, provide a carbon copy of your application environment and provide processing power at unheard of speeds. However, just like the costs and challenges related to the spy satellite, they can also be hard to justify for day-to-day functionality.
Still, it is nice to know there are options, if such an option is required to maintain a competitive advantage.
Have a really great day!
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