Real-time decision-making with edge to cloud
Analyzing data to make mission-critical decisions used to take days or weeks, but now edge to cloud operations have reduced this time to hours if not minutes. With edge to cloud, decision making is moved to the edge where data is collected and allows the data to rapidly transit to link the mission space to the cloud.
Derrick served in the U.S. Army in the intelligence domain and was deployed on several overseas missions, and he is now Director of Digital Modernization at Leidos.
“My focus has moved from working with customers, to facilitate intelligence collection and analysis, to building out mission systems that actually enable customers to exploit data and make sense of threat information.”
Derrick has come full circle bringing his career journey to a place where he can now offer capabilities to the modern warfighter. Working with Leidos for the last decade, Derrick is responsible for leading the corporation’s edge computing to cloud strategy and creating an edge to cloud ecosystem.
To find out how edge to cloud can be used across multiple verticals and use cases to collect, process and analyze data in near real time, don’t miss this episode.
“As our world becomes increasingly more connected, [edge to cloud] is forming that electric grid, if you will, of data as it's going from devices to the cloud, and back.”
On today’s podcast:
- The definition of edge to cloud
- How edge to cloud accelerates innovation and digital modernization
- The capabilities included in the edge to cloud ecosystem at Leidos
- The importance of edge to cloud operations across sectors
Derrick Pledger: It's all about making data and capability possible to transit sort of a highway that links the mission space to the cloud in a meaningful way.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET, a Leidos podcast. I'm your host, Bridget Bell.
Meghan Good: And I'm your host, Meghan Good. Join us as we talk with pioneers in science, engineering and technology, to understand their creative mindset and share their stories of innovation.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET. Today, we're speaking about edge to cloud with Derrick Pledger, Director of Digital Modernization at Leidos. He started by talking about his career journey and his time with the army and various deployments and how he brought that full circle to now offer capabilities to the war fighter as the Director of Digital Modernization at Leidos.
Meghan Good: He talked through what capabilities we're building into an ecosystem that really handles data from the edge to the cloud and back to those other edges.
Bridget Bell: And like anything digital, we're in for a rapid change, from data centers in the cloud to really focusing on the device and being pushed to the edge and Derrick shared some staggering statistics of the change we might expect in the next two years.
Meghan Good: So we talked about how edge to cloud is really an overall strategy and that there's so many different components and solutions that could go into it, that it really does need an ecosystem and it's a way of looking at your data and how it's being processed and where it's being processed as our world becomes increasingly more connected. It's forming that electric grid, if you will, of data as it's going from devices to the cloud and back.
Bridget Bell: There really seem to be so many applications for edge to cloud across markets like civil, health, intel, and defense, including all military services. So let's jump into the conversation to hear more.
Meghan Good: Welcome Derrick.
Derrick Pledger: Thanks for having me today.
Bridget Bell: So let's start with your role with Leidos and a little bit about your background.
Derrick Pledger: Sure. So, well, first, I really want to take the time to thank you both for having me, really excited about our discussion as edge to cloud as a topic that is both personal to me and it also is critically important as we move to bring this capability to our customers within the DOD and intelligence community space.
Derrick Pledger: So a little about me, my role here at Leidos is focused on bringing the best of breed of technologies and capabilities from across the corporation together in a way that propels us to create what we feel are best in class solutions. So my career actually began in the army, within the intelligence domain, focused on data exploitation and supporting human source operations. I've been on multiple all-expense paid trips to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the horn of Africa as both a soldier, as well as a Leidos employee, lots of fun and life altering events across those years for sure. And related to that, during my 10 years here at Leidos, my focus has moved from working with customers to facilitate intelligence collection and analysis to building out mission systems that actually enable customers to exploit data and make sense of right information.
Derrick Pledger: So today, as part of our digital modernization strategy, I am one of the key contributors to building out our edge computing and cloud integration capabilities to enhance offerings across the edge of the cloud space.
Meghan Good: Well, wow, Derrick. What a career journey to get you here. I'm wondering, to set our listeners straight and Bridget and myself as well, what is edge to cloud?
Derrick Pledger: Great question, Meghan, and it really depends on who you ask. I totally recognize that we're certainly in an age where technical buzzwords like edge computing, fall computing, and other terms like IOT or internet of things are used quite frequently so I'll do my best to simplify what we mean by edge to cloud.
Derrick Pledger: And at the most basic level, edge to cloud really refers to a bi-directional or distributed computing model, whereas data collection and compute operations can be conducted at the location where data is actually collected. In addition to providing the capability to move this pre-process data to the cloud, or some sort of centralized location for additional analysis and critical insight.
Derrick Pledger: So you can think of the edge as the mission space where our customers are collecting data from different sensors, different devices or other collection platforms. So this could be a ground sensor. It could be in aerial sensor, ruggedized laptop, smartphone, or any sort of handheld device that can perform voice imagery or another form of information collection.
Derrick Pledger: So why edge to cloud operations are so important is that data is always time sensitive and if you're not able to process information quickly and in near real time, this can create huge problems for customers or the war fighter, who depends on having the right information to make a mission critical decisions.
Derrick Pledger: So at the base level, it's all about making data and capability possible to transit sort of a highway that links the mission space to the cloud in a meaningful way.
Bridget Bell: So as our Director of Digital Modernization, how does it really accelerate innovation and accelerate digital modernization?
Derrick Pledger: So historically speaking, especially within the context of the military or other distributed operations, the data time to value, or in other words, the time it takes to really glean value or insight from data that is collected has generally been a long and brain power intensive process. What I can say from experience on the battlefield is that the collecting data without having the appropriate context or the ability to fuse and correlate information has really cost lives and has also led a number of intelligence failures within our intelligence apparatus.
Derrick Pledger: What I mean by this is that there are times where critical information has been collected, however, it's not correlated appropriately. So the right insight can't be gained to make sure a mission decision is made in the most appropriate manner. Just think of a September 11th attacks or the Marine Corps barracks bombing in Lebanon that happened in 1983.
Derrick Pledger: So for our purpose, our focus within the edge to cloud space is not only to make sure that data can be collected and moved to the cloud where you have capabilities that are more robust, that could be leveraged to conduct analysis and correlation, but also, and more importantly, we have created an ecosystem where we can take software applications and other capabilities and push them forward to the edge so analysis can happen at the point of data collection to support real time decisions. This is really a game changer in terms of accelerating the speed upon which you can process mission critical data.
Derrick Pledger: In addition, technology always moves at warp speeds and threats are always evolving. So in many cases, you have to be able to modernize your tactics, techniques, and procedures to counter new threats and we help our customers do that through the application of technology and solutions across their enterprise IT and mission IT environments.
Meghan Good: So that's a lot. And really with all that you're talking about data and synthesis and analyzing it and thinking about how distributed it is, there has to be a lot that you have already been working through. So I'm wondering, what is included in the edge to cloud ecosystem at Leidos? What kind of capabilities?
Derrick Pledger: As one of the largest lead system integrators within the government IT space, we hold a very unique position in that we have market leading capabilities within the areas of agile software development, cloud migration, and modernization, sensor platform and system integration, as well as multiple enterprise scale programs of record across the DOD mission space.
Derrick Pledger: One of the generational issues that we confront all across of our customer verticals is that most times data, software, technical capabilities and other mission applications are often built or operate in silos. And you certainly cannot make effective command decisions where analytical capabilities are isolated from the data repositories or threat information that you need to drive operations.
Derrick Pledger: And to add to that, there's so much data being collected via millions of sensors that are operating across our customers environments as well. There's just not enough human brain power to make sense of it all so what we've done is build an extensible cloud-based ecosystem that is comprised of infrastructure, software, interfaces that essentially creates a fabric of data, a mission software, and we add on artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, which gives our customers the ability to leverage the full power of the cloud and it's complimentary capabilities at the tactical level, all while breaking down the silos between data, mission software applications, and the people that need information to effectuate some sort of mission decision.
Derrick Pledger: So to me, the fact is that our customers within all of our markets, to include defense, intel, health, we have civil, they all have use cases where they need to be able to exploit data in near real time across their IT environments. So the Leidos ecosystem and our technical approach, which involves mature capability partnerships with the likes of AWS and others affords our customer's ability to execute edge to cloud operations in a secure manner, but also at scale. So we keep a laser focused on making sure that as an integrator, we can bring customers the capabilities they need with speed, via our software factories that are designed to deploy cutting edge applications at a rapid pace, both in the cloud or at the tactical level.
Meghan Good: That's a lot of pieces and parts coming together into that fabric, as you say, and certainly scaling across different customer sets, they all have their different needs as well.
Bridget Bell: Yeah, there's a lot to unpack there and I think there's implications even outside of our customer base, but are there specific areas within edge to cloud that are getting the most attention from partners or government agencies?
Derrick Pledger: A great question, Bridget. I think the edge to cloud area is getting a lot of attention in the defense space because there is an increasing need to be able to collect, process and exploit data in near real time as asymmetric threats continue to emerge. And this of course applies to the battlefield, to space operations, Naval operations at sea, and also within the Air Force and Army command and control domain.
Derrick Pledger: However, if you think about it, especially what's happening with COVID-19 today, it forces us to confront the reality that the health sector is in dire need of the same type of ecosystem. Think about how much data is being collected across the world relative to COVID-19 in terms of the spread of the virus, vaccine trials, patient information, treatment trends, all of this data needs to be shared, processed and correlated if we're going to have a shot at the feeding the virus.
Derrick Pledger: So breaking down the silos across disparate data sets and being able to bring new capability to the actual locales where information collection is occurring is something that I think all government agencies need to give some real attention to. It's certainly incumbent upon all of us getting Leidos, our partners and government agencies to work together in a way that we can maximize our ability to confront threats and new world challenges that will certainly continue to manifest themselves.
Meghan Good: So with that, that's a lot about what's currently going on and the challenges and the excitement around the cloud. But I'm wondering, where do you see the most transformation occurring in the next five years?
Derrick Pledger: Yes, very interesting. So I've read a Gartner article a few days ago, which mentioned that as of today, I think that up to 91% of the world's data is created and processed in centralized data centers or in the cloud. However, by 2022, 75% of all data will need to be either analyzed or processed or some form action will need to be taken at the edge.
Derrick Pledger: So if you unpack this a bit, this certainly does not mean that the capabilities or the power of the cloud will become obsolete. What it does mean is that building out inter operable ecosystems, whereas you can connect the edge and the cloud in a way that brings sustainability to near real time data processing and exploitation across the customer's IT environment becomes the imperative.
Derrick Pledger: There is a really a symbiotic relationship between the edge and the cloud. And when merged together, the combination can provide the real time and long-term insights, especially when you bring in artificial intelligence and machine learning and other capabilities that drive efficiencies as well as make it possible to reduce what I call the cognitive burden on operators and decision makers.
Derrick Pledger: One thing I would like to point out is that this methodology is really much broader than just defense and government use cases. The idea is that freeing customer mission data from silos and bringing in capability to the edge is something that is relevant across lots of industries. Whether that be government, you can think of power and utilities, oil, and gas, pharmaceuticals, and other areas.
Derrick Pledger: So for Leidos, the ecosystem that we've built is designed to be portable, meaning that this construct in our architecture can be used to address mission needs on the commercial side as well, just as we can do on the defense side, but all the while we keep it at laser focused on making sure that we can do things at speed, scaling up where needed and providing security across the entire enterprise IT landscape.
Meghan Good: So if I can dive in there for a second, if the number that you have from Gartner's, 91% is currently in a data center and we're switching to 75% at the edge. That's huge. I mean, that's from 9% to 75% in a really short period of time.
Derrick Pledger: Yeah. Certainly one of the challenges is there's so much data that's being collected. There's just not enough brain power. There's not that many humans on a planet that can sift through all of this data. So in order to have critical insights and near real time decision making, you don't have the time to collect all this data, bring it to a centralized place for processing, and then push it back down to the edge for folks that need to make a decision. What needs to happen is you need to do the collection at the edge, processing at the edge, analytics at the edge, such that you're able to make those decisions in real time and that's really what this ecosystem that we're building is all about.
Meghan Good: And then you're going to push a lot of stuff to the edge, including gear, right, and ways that compute and all the stuff that is in those big data centers today. Right?
Derrick Pledger: Absolutely. So the main thing that we want to push is capability and software. And what I mean by that, as I mentioned, AI/ML capability. The devices conversation is something different. Whereas we don't particularly care what device you want to use for your collection or for your integration at the edge, the way we're building the ecosystem is such that it's plug and play. So if you want to bring an Amazon built device to the ecosystem or something that's built from Microsoft to the ecosystem, we don't particularly care. What we're building are the interfaces between those devices in the cloud, such that able to ingest data, allow things to talk to one another across states, across the ecosystem, so you're still able to gain critical insights from your data, not depending on the particular devices or a particular compute to be able to effectuate that change.
Meghan Good: So you're keeping the flow of data consistent, regardless of the device at the edge, but making sure that you're thinking about it in the holistic sense from that edge point back to the cloud and back to other edges.
Derrick Pledger: Certainly. So you can think of it as we're trying to be the electrical grid that allows all this different power to move amongst the different devices and to the cloud. So without that electrical grid, you're not going to be able to have power that goes to the different end points to make those connections. So we're trying to be at the center of gravity of that. So you're exactly right.
Bridget Bell: And that seems like a very large lift to push all of that to the edge in a very short timeframe. And obviously Derrick, speaking with you, you are an expert in this area and we can tell how invested and excited you are about the topic. So I'm curious, what are you really most excited about with edge to cloud? Can you give an example?
Derrick Pledger: Sure thing. So there's a ton of things that I'm excited about with respect to edge to cloud and how Leidos is solving some difficult problems within this space, but I would say the most exciting element of cloud for me personally is definitely putting analytics and compute capabilities in the hands of the war fighter, making sure that our soldiers, sailors, Marines and other service men and women have the tools they need to make near real time decisions. It's really about saving lives or preventing harm to our homeland and that is something that is near and dear to my heart.
Derrick Pledger: And as an example, during the conflicts in the Middle East, it took many months and oftentimes years to get new capabilities in the hands of troops, which is now something that we at Leidos are turning upside down via our ecosystem and rapid secure DevOps capabilities, which allows us to then deliver capability in days or hours or sometimes minutes, which is why having an enterprise ecosystem is where you can really plug and play devices and bring capabilities fast to the war fighter at scale and that's just critically important.
Derrick Pledger: And that's what really excites me about the path we're on as a corporation as well, because I really believe that it will help the Army, the Navy, the Air Force transform the way data collection and processing integrates within command and control to make sure our forces maintain superiority over our enemies.
Bridget Bell: And that applies to Marines and special operators as well. So from your time in the army, to now with Leidos, how you're being able to bring those capabilities to the war fighter, you've come full circle.
Derrick Pledger: Certainly. Absolutely.
Meghan Good: And with that, really full circle, I wonder what interested you in a career in digital modernization?
Derrick Pledger: Let's see. Within the context of digital modernization, things change so rapidly. It's hard for any one person to really keep their arms around how fast technology moves and how fast threats evolve. I think it's incredibly important to build the right team, the right brain trust around modernization, and that is what our executive leadership expects that we do.
Derrick Pledger: So if you're interested in joining a forward looking organization with great capabilities and important missions, you should certainly give us a look. But you know, for me, as I talked about earlier, I really began my career focused on intelligence analysis. However, doing one of my deployments to Africa, I was forced to learn how to understand how things work under the covers. We had a particular field service engineer who had to leave country for a family emergency. So when systems failed or there were engineering problems, I had to fix them on my own for nine months. Turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me because I learned how to write Java code as well as build integrated systems, hybrid cloud environments, essentially from the bottom up.
Derrick Pledger: So that experience is really what moved my focus to IT and modernizing systems to support war fighters at the tactical edge. So I'd say the best advice that I would have is to find an area of digital modernization that excites you and create a plan to get as much exposure to that domain as possible so you can add value and then obviously, join a great company like Leidos so you can live your dream.
Bridget Bell: I feel like we've just scratched the surface as far as what we could talk about with edge to cloud, but as we wrap up, any final words for our audience?
Derrick Pledger: Definitely just scratched the surface. There's so many different elements to edge to cloud based on the customer use cases that are out there. But as I touched on earlier, what we're trying to build is an ecosystem that can be used across a multiple different customer verticals and multiple different use cases. So I'm very excited about it. We're doing some real cutting edge things here at Leidos and we're excited about what we're going to bring to market soon.
Derrick Pledger: As for any last words, I would just say thanks for listening and I hope some sense of normalcy returns to us at some point. And in the interim, be safe and take care of your families. Thanks for having me today, Bridget and Meghan. I really appreciate it.
Meghan Good: Oh, well, thanks for your time Derrick. It was great to hear your insights on edge to cloud and thanks to our audience for listening to MindSET. If you enjoyed this episode, please share with your colleagues and visit leidos.com/MindSET.