Cloud Security Frees Up NOAA's Workforce

Maksim Kabakou/

Centralizing networks lets human eyes cover more than 1 billion cyber transactions a day for signs of hacking.

Sometimes consolidation can be a good thing for the federal workforce.

Centralizing networks in the cloud has allowed human eyes at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to weed through 1.2 billion cyber transactions per day for signs of hacking.

Typically, federal executives name cost and energy savings as the main perks of shutting down government data centers and shipping operations to the Web.

"We ultimately will save not only money in terms of our electricity bill -- we'll have better security and better safety," said Darren Smith, who manages the 5 megawatt NOAA Environmental Security Computing Center, home to a supercomputer called Zeus that models weather and climate changes. He was speaking at a conference in Washington hosted by MeriTalk, a public-private partnership that works to heighten the efficacy of federal information technology. 

Poor security is sometimes seen as the downside of cloud computing. Agencies fear losing control of their information when it is stored remotely, whether in an Amazon server farm or a different government office. But that is changing.

Some NOAA information security specialists already are noticing the benefits, Smith said, during an interview after the event.

Specialists posted to the agency's security operations center, or SOC, who are responsible for monitoring all incoming traffic, now have a better handle on what is happening, with the data points all visible in one place, he said. About 8.6 billion transmissions occur on the agency's networks per week. 

"They reduce that, through automation, down to 30 per hour, per day so a human being has to look at thirty of these an hour and say: 'Is this a real threat? Are we being attacked or not?'" Smith explained. "You cannot do that if you were not able to take the traffic and replicate and send it over to the SOC."

(Image via Maksim Kabakou/