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Industry: Technology & Media
Location: United States
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Booz Allen Hamilton: Advancing the Tactical Edge with K3s and SUSE RGS

Highlights

  • Highly portable, containerized infrastructure, capable of running on any device in any environment.
  • Removal of the gap between data capture and insight delivery.
  • 80% reduction in time-to-insight; from hours to seconds.

Products

  • K3s Lightweight Kubernetes

Booz Allen Hamilton is one of a growing co­hort of organizations working in association with the U.S. Department of Defense to drive open source innovation into strategic de­fense initiatives. The company is delivering technology solutions that give warfight­ers the information edge on the battlefield. Booz Allen is transforming military opera­tions in complex and remote locations with the use of groundbreaking technologies, to enable decision-making at the point of data collection.

Fast, insight-driven decision-making in highly dynamic and dangerous conditions is, more often than not, the difference be­tween life and death. Booz Allen’s innova­tive edge computing solution, SmartEdge, addresses the increasing need to gather data in real time and perform analysis at the point of collection, supplying imme­diate insight which results in faster deci­sion-making in pressurized, inhospitable environments such as battlefields. The an­alytics enabled and performed by Smart­Edge allow battalions to make real-time, data-driven decisions which dramatically improve operational outcomes and in­crease the probability of mission success.

For John Pisano, Ki Lee and Ben Reif, leaders within Booz Allen’s digital solutions busi­ness, the focus has been to address this challenge with the development of Smart­Edge, a decentralized approach that goes beyond data collection to data process­ing and analytics, delivering insight and prompting immediate action.

Ki Lee, vice president of digital solutions at Booz Allen Hamilton, perfectly summarizes the impact of SmartEdge on the modern battlefield, “At the tactical edge, time is a weapon. With edge computing and pro­cessing at the point of data collection, we will give warfighters access to real-time, data-driven insights so they can act at the speed of the mission. SmartEdge makes this possible at scale with an extensible platform utilizing open architecture prin­ciples and open source technologies.”

Working in collaboration with Brandon Gul­la, Tim Nicklas, Chris Nuber and the team at SUSE Rancher Government Services (SUSE RGS, formerly Rancher Federal), the Booz Allen team is underpinning its smart, tactical edge platform with K3s, the fully certified CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) Kubernetes offering. K3s is a super-lightweight Kubernetes distribution, designed for production workloads in unat­tended, resource constrained, remote envi­ronments.

This is the story of how, alongside the team at SUSE RGS, Booz Allen is delivering real tactical advantage to its clients with Kuber­netes and K3s.

At-a-Glance

As a premier digital integrator for the U.S. Department of Defense, Booz Allen Hamilton delivers technology solutions that give warfighters the information edge on the battlefield. Capitalizing on open source solutions like K3s, Booz Allen’s SmartEdge solution allows bat­talions to make real-time, data-driven decisions which dramatically improve operational outcomes and increase the probability of mission success.

The Journey to SUSE RGS and K3s

When looking at today’s connected envi­ronment, what is striking is the proliferation of IoT and edge devices. This increase, both in the volume of devices, sensors and con­nections (and the data generated by these elements), is driving a natural shift toward edge operations. Booz Allen and SUSE RGS are at the vanguard of innovation in this space.

Booz Allen has been part of the open source community for many years. The firm is a key contributor to Jenkins and Cray OS projects (and the plugins that enable these). It is also a core member of, and contributor to, the CNCF Foundation. Unsurprisingly then, when designing the SmartEdge infrastruc­ture, containers and Kubernetes were part of the plan from the start.

The team began experimenting with Ku­bernetes and early versions of Docker in 2015. They soon became familiar with Ku­bernetes’ value as a mechanism to move away from outdated and monolithic com­pute methodologies. The digital solutions group at Booz Allen quickly recognized Ku­bernetes’ ability to drive a more agile, cloud native and microservices-centric strategy, in solving the most complex of infrastruc­ture management challenges.

When it came to Kubernetes management, the team trialed a number of options.

KubeEdge and K3s seemed the most natural starting point, given the device-centric use case. After assessing other leading Kuber­netes distributions, it was clear that many stayed focused on the Cloud and had no clear strategy for edge deployments. The team liked KubeEdge, but with the profile of its customers front-of-mind Booz Allen wanted to work with a company with a solid U.S. presence.

K3s was soon identified as the right solu­tion, due to its small footprint, streamlined distribution and relevance to the digital so­lutions team’s particular needs. The rela­tionship with SUSE RGS was the natural next step, and in 2018, K3s was deployed by the Booz Allen team.

Ben Reif, lead developer at Booz Allen Ham­ilton, was quick to emphasize that, “K3s has been a foundational piece—giving us the automated cloud to edge DevSecOps ca­pability we needed. It allows us to do up­dates with different deployment strategies and operate our edge devices in a clus­tered fashion. It really does support distrib­uted processing across devices.”

“Based on the open architecture and the modularity, our intent here is to create an ecosystem of capabilities, of infrastructure that we can plug and play, so that we can orchestrate to mission-specific requirements—K3s makes this possible.”

Pioneering a New Frontier in Military Tactics

As the innovation team at Booz Allen have come to understand, many organiza­tions continue to operate outdated data processing methodologies—struggling to capitalize on the opportunity the edge rep­resents. This has resulted in a widening gap between data capture and decision-mak­ing.

The industry is accustomed to thinking about the edge as an enterprise IT term—the edge of the data center, or remote ac­cess capabilities. For Booz Allen, the edge means the far, tactical edge—in the thick of the action where quick thinking could mean the difference between mission success or failure. Their team of technologists have, therefore, looked at how edge technologies like K3s can be used to close the gap be­tween data collection and action.

Comprised of fixed cloud, tactical cloud and tactical edge infrastructure, Smart­Edge is a completely hardware-agnostic and heterogeneous solution. It was devel­oped in recognition of the diverse range of hardware in the field—a project might run in AWS, Azure or GCP (or a mixture), and so the SmartEdge infrastructure had to support multiple architectures in a variety of flavors. In contrast to commodity, cloud-based re­sources, the focus was on building minimal streamlined container images in multiple flavors. Why? In designing the architecture and the DevSecOps pipeline estate, having a variety of container images would sup­port multiple specific architectures. This is where K3s comes in—helping the team ex­ecute in a range of environments, where a range of different hardware is used.

But what does this mean from an opera­tional point of view? How do soldiers in the­atres of war benefit from this innovation?

Driving Insight at the Tactical Edge

Things move very fast in the fog of war. Bat­tlefields are constantly changing, and an enabler like SmartEdge allows an individual to serve as a force multiplier. Historically, as a soldier on military patrol searching for high value targets, the emphasis would be on preparation—training or pre-briefings based on existing intelligence gathered in advance. Logistically, this requires high lev­els of coordination, or intelligence can be compromised and quickly become out­dated.

John Pisano, principal at Booz Allen Ham­ilton, explains, “When we think of the tac­tical edge, we think of the soldier, the first responder, and the kit they wear and carry. Our focus is on creating highly sensitive and effective systems that enable teams to do their jobs quicker and more efficiently.”

An array of embedded sensors perform a variety of distinct functions, gathering data in real time and performing analysis at the point of collection. Whether it’s a camera scanning the environment or biometrics that are tracking the state of an individual’s health, all these sensors capture and pro­cess data locally, supplying immediate in­sight which results in faster decision-mak­ing.

Pisano continues: “By putting processing power directly into operational kit, we can connect teams and allow collective con­sciousness in the field. Not only can I check my heart rate, I can check yours too, look after my team better, adjust my tactics ac­cording to environmental and physical fac­tors. This drives better outcomes.”

Historically, to confirm a team has received the same information, a soldier would have to relay a question via radio and wait for a response from each operative. Having processing power at the tactical edge au­tomates this confirmation not only for the individual soldier but across an entire, con­nected squad. SmartEdge aggregates the experience to put insight in the hands of ev­eryone, at the same time.

This is critical not only in terms of monitor­ing health but, crucially, delivers insight at the moment information is most needed. As soldiers move through an area, if by chance a camera picks up an object or person of in­terest, it can home in and detect the nature of that object. Connected sensors will not only alert the individual but the entire group.

This early consolidation of information allows entire battalions to strategize on-the-fly—all that processing happens as the camera captures the image. It is scanning, detecting and acting on this insight instantly. This is in sharp contrast to earlier methods in which data was passed via an operations center, by which time the target may have moved or the environment altered. Outcomes have been transformed as a result.

What’s Next

For the team, the priority is to deploy SmartEdge in as many scenarios as pos­sible, where it can make a real and tangible difference. From an innovation point-of-view, the digital solutions business is seeing the impact of SmartEdge on the evolution of the device landscape. According to the team, Booz Allen’s clients can use a range of devices as the software knows how to talk to an array of sensors. If users want to lift and drop software on a Raspberry Pi, or Nvidia Jetson, they can. K3s allows this kind of portability which is ushering in a new ho­rizon of possibilities for the firm’s clients.

Ki Lee, vice president, Booz Allen Hamilton concludes, “Based on the open architec­ture and the modularity, our intent here is to create an ecosystem of capabilities, of infrastructure that we can plug and play, so that we can orchestrate to mission-specific requirements—K3s makes this possible.”