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Obama Administration Places $200 Million Bet On Big Data

The U.S. Government has Big Plans for Big Data. The Obama Administration Is Putting $200M Toward it, and Looking For Ideas.

Big Data. It’s more than a buzzword. At least the Obama Administration believes so, and for those who attended this year’s RSA Conference, you’ll agree that Big Data was a hot topic. While many, including myself, become irritated by overused marketing terms, researchers and technologists are trying to find ways to make use of massive volumes of data, and "Big Data" is what they're calling it.

As the Federal Government aims to make use of the massive volume of digital data being generated on a daily basis, the Obama Administration today announced a “Big Data Research and Development Initiative” backed by more than $200 million in commitments to start.

Big Data InitiativeThrough the new Big Data initiative and associated monetary investments, the Obama Administration promises to greatly improve the tools and techniques needed to access, organize, and glean discoveries from huge volumes of digital data.

“In the same way that past Federal investments in information-technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environmental and biomedical research, education, and national security,” said Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In order to capitalize on the opportunity, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)—along with several Federal departments and agencies—created the Big Data Research and Development Initiative to:

• Advance state-of-the-art core technologies needed to collect, store, preserve, manage, analyze, and share huge quantities of data.

• Harness these technologies to accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen our national security, and transform teaching and learning

• Expand the workforce needed to develop and use Big Data technologies.

The big data initiative was created in response to recommendations coming from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last year.

The OSTP outlined the first wave of commitments to support the Big Data initiative as follows:

National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health - Core Techniques and Technologies for Advancing Big Data Science & Engineering: “Big Data” is a new joint solicitation supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will advance the core scientific and technological means of managing, analyzing, visualizing, and extracting useful information from large and diverse data sets. This will accelerate scientific discovery and lead to new fields of inquiry that would otherwise not be possible. NIH is particularly interested in imaging, molecular, cellular, electrophysiological, chemical, behavioral, epidemiological, clinical, and other data sets related to health and disease. (More on NSF Big Data Here)

National Science Foundation: In addition to funding the Big Data solicitation, and keeping with its focus on basic research, NSF is implementing a comprehensive, long- term strategy that includes new methods to derive knowledge from data; infrastructure to manage, curate, and serve data to communities; and new approaches to education and workforce development. The NSF is also encouraging research universities to develop interdisciplinary graduate programs to prepare the next generation of data scientists and engineers.

In addition, the NSF says it will
fund a $10 million “Expeditions in Computing” project based at the University of California, Berkeley, that will integrate three powerful approaches for turning data into information - machine learning, cloud computing, and crowd sourcing. The foundation will also award other research grants in other areas, including support for a focused research group of statisticians and biologists to determine protein structures and biological pathways.

Department of Defense – Data to Decisions: The Department of Defense (DoD) said it would invest approximately $250 million annually in "Big Data" related prjects across the Military Departments in a series of programs that it says will:

• Harness and utilize massive data in new ways and bring together sensing, perception and decision support to make truly autonomous systems that can maneuver and make decisions on their own.

• Improve situational awareness to help warfighters and analysts and provide increased support to operations. The Department is seeking a 100-fold increase in the ability of analysts to extract information from texts in any language, and a similar increase in the number of objects, activities, and events that an analyst can observe.

To spark innovations in Big Data, the DoD said it will announce a series of open prize competitions over the next several months.

In addition, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is launching the XDATA program, which plans to invest approximately $25 million annually for four years to develop computational techniques and software tools for analyzing large volumes of data, both semi-structured and unstructured. The XDATA program will support open source software toolkits to enable flexible software development for users to process large volumes of data in timelines commensurate with mission workflows of targeted defense applications.

“The Department of Defense is placing a Big Bet on Big Data,” Zachary J. Lemnios, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering for Department of Defense wrote in a letter announcing the Defense Department’s plans for Big Data. “Help us reach our visions by submitting your ideas to the solicitations.”

You can read more about plans for the Department of Defense to use big data here.

National Institutes of Health – 1000 Genomes Project Data Available on Cloud: The National Institutes of Health announced that the world’s largest set of data on human genetic variation – produced by the international 1000 Genomes Project – is now freely available on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud. At 200 terabytes, the current 1000 Genomes Project data set is a prime example of big data. The NIH said AWS is storing the 1000 Genomes Project as a publically available data set for free and researchers only will pay for the computing services that they use.

Department of Energy – Scientific Discovery Through Advanced Computing: The Department of Energy said it will provide $25 million in funding to establish the Scalable Data Management, Analysis and Visualization (SDAV) Institute. Led by the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the SDAV Institute will bring together the expertise of six national laboratories and seven universities to develop new tools to help scientists manage and visualize data on the Department’s supercomputers.

US Geological Survey – Big Data for Earth System Science: USGS is announcing the latest awardees for grants it issues through its John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis. The Center catalyzes innovative thinking in Earth system science by providing scientists a place and time for in-depth analysis, state-of-the-art computing capabilities, and collaborative tools invaluable for making sense of huge data sets. These Big Data projects will improve our understanding of issues such as species response to climate change, earthquake recurrence rates, and the next generation of ecological indicators.

“We also want to challenge industry, research universities, and non-profits to join with the Administration to make the most of the opportunities created by Big Data,” Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP noted in a blog post. “Clearly, the government can’t do this on its own. We need what the President calls an ‘all hands on deck’ effort.”

"This is a breakthrough moment for government," Sanjay Mehta, VP of Product Marketing at Splunk told SecurityWeek. "The initiative is not only a testament to the sheer power behind the massive amounts of data government has at its disposal, but is also indicative of key federal agencies' commitment to tacking big data challenges and uncovering intelligence that would otherwise go unknown. We are encouraged by the Administration's pledge for a private-public sector partnership that will further expand innovation in education, science, healthcare and national security."