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Air Force Touts Digital Ecosystem’s Impact on Industrial Operations

Officials say the hybrid-cloud solution in the service’s digital ecosystem connecting disparate data is showing cost savings.

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Air Force Sustainment Center personnel discuss sustainment process of a C-130J aircraft R-391 propeller at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, June 3, 2024. Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

The Air Force is already seeing a return on investment with its Technology Hosting Environment for NextGen Automation (ATHENA) program, a digital ecosystem the service created to unify how the service monitors defense industrial activity.

The comments came from officials at the Air Force Sustainment Center (AFSC) who highlighted some of the successes they are seeing in the program after implementing AWS’s on-premises private cloud solution called Outposts.

“Outposts is very well-built because you could run your car into it and total your car,” AFSC ATHENA Program Leader Josh Thompson said at the AWS Summit in Washington, D.C., Wednesday. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and the Air Force is really excited about the results that we’ve seen so far with it.”

Outposts offers a hybrid-cloud solution for AFSC by bringing AWS infrastructure directly to on-premises data centers, leveraging cloud computing benefits and low-latency access to critical applications and data.

A key component of AWS Outposts is that data storage, process and compute is expandable in a short timeframe with easier lifecycle management than standard on-premises solutions, allowing for AFSC to scale efficiently, reduce downtime and ensure seamless continuity of critical operations.

“One of the main technical hurdles we had was that if you have thousands of devices, and you’re saving hundreds of tags on each one, you’re dealing with a very large data set and your timeline to get that to the cloud at any DOD facility is usually 40 gigs or less,” said AFSC ATHENA Lead Architect John York at the event. “AWS has significantly helped us with processing all that data with our limited databases.”

One of the major advantages of AFSC’s implementation of Outposts is the tenfold increase in data transmission by utilizing on-premises cloud computing compared to traditional region deployment, which has enhanced the mission’s operational efficiency, York noted.

Thompson also highlighted that the local security team has improved control and visibility into data ingress and egress from the cloud to the data center with Outposts, strengthening data protection and ensuring that data remains secure throughout the transmission process.

“When you’re sending out data from a DOD facility, and you’re getting into the region, you have all these steps like firewalls, switching, routing, and you lose visibility of your data once it passes out of your environment,” Thompson said. “With Outposts on-premises cloud, we can actually have visibility of all the data transactions.”

The service sees the business benefits of machine utilization and predictive maintenance. Thompson noted that AFSC’s leadership is “extremely excited” about the return of investment that Outposts has made for the agency.

“It’s been a short period of time for us to just start quantifying it, but I know that we’ve saved millions already,” Thompson said. “The more devices we connect and preventative maintenance and dashboarding that we can do will only make that number of the amount that we’re saving skyrocket.”

“There’s a return of investment from a production value with AWS Outposts, but there’s an even larger return of investment on the good stories of the things that we’ve accomplished with the service that we’re able to repeat, grow, expand and share, so other agencies can utilize [Outposts] as well,” York said.

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