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When clouds are a good thing for aviation

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The critical role cloud computing plays in the management of international civil aviation will be presented by Marco Merens, ICAO’s Chief of Integrated Aviation Analysis, at the United Nations World Data Forum taking place in Cape Town.
“The Accident Notification System is a good example of how ICAO uses the cloud to collect, store, organize, analyze and ultimately share information,” Merens said. “Assuming we have an accident that meets the established criteria, the Crisis Response Team at ICAO automatically receives an email and message notifying them of the event, and allowing the organization to run a real-time accident monitoring system. Without the cloud, it would not have been possible to process such a great amount of information in such a short time.”
He explained that in this example, data is collected from various data feeds, citing the Aviation Herald, the Aviation Safety Network and Flight Global as examples of sources. The process consists of downloading data from these feed services every three hours and storing it in the cloud. The data is then processed through Elastic MapReduce or EMR on Amazon, a programming framework that supports the processing of large amounts of unstructured data into smaller tasks. Duplicate accident data is then removed, reports from different sources are combined and the desired data is automatically merged it into one single document or report. Such reports are generated automatically and contain real-time information.
“To serve the aviation community globally, some sections at ICAO have to run complex analysis and manage big data regularly. Such high-velocity and high-variety information requires cost-effective and innovative server and computer infrastructures. With its growing involvement in predictive analysis, such as identifying future needs of aviation globally or the most appropriate areas to invest resources in, ICAO started to look into cloud-based solutions a few years ago,” Merens said. “Widely available and found under various forms, cloud solutions allow users to take benefit from all new technologies, without the need for deep knowledge about or expertise with each one of them.”
The cloud refers to software and services that run on the Internet, instead of locally on a computer. Services offered by the cloud include computer networks, servers, storage and applications. In a way, the cloud is like a central location where data can be stored and accessed from anywhere at any time, always and as long as the user has a login and password. Data present in the cloud can then be distributed into multiple platforms to produce forecasts and analysis. ICAO’s Integrated Aviation Analysis Section (IAA) transitioned to the cloud in light of this, as it is responsible for sharing safety related datasets and for producing analyses based on these datasets.
This transition occurred through the conversion of the IAA’s analysis processes into web-based cloud applications. ICAO now uses the cloud for predictive analysis of future aviation needs, to develop and test new solutions based on those findings, and to deliver airport data to users. Today, all of ICAO’s web applications are developed directly through the cloud, codes are deployed directly in the cloud, and data is stored permanently or temporarily in the cloud.
These web-based applications are all hosted in the Integrated Safety Trend Analysis and Reporting System (iSTARS), a secured web-based system protected by the ICAO Secure Portal. Indeed, for organizations looking to take advantage of the cloud, data security remains a top concern. “Effective data protection and strong encryption in the cloud is possible and available through a number of cloud solutions,” Merens said. “These solutions include policy and legislation as well as end users’ choice for how data is stored. Essentially, choosing a cloud with the appropriate certification ensures security standards are met.”
To address this, ICAO developed what it calls its “cloudability principles”, which state that what comes in from the cloud can stay in the cloud, and what comes from in-house should stay in-house if private but can be synced with the cloud if public.
By using the cloud, ICAO eliminated the performance and reliability issues of previous on-premises systems, allowing organization staff to focus on developing its services in a faster, better scaled and more flexible manner than what infrastructure available in-house could provide. For the IAA, using cloud based solutions made it easier to experiment innovative techniques which would not have been possible with in-house infrastructure. The team’s members evolved from being co-workers to co-creators, enhancing principles of mobility and collaboration. Users can now access real-time information anytime, anywhere.
“iSTARS provides a quick and convenient interface to a collection of safety and efficiency datasets and web applications that provide users with safety, efficiency and risk analyses,” Merens said. “Users of such information are to be found globally, and involve aviation data analysts, safety managers, or database administrators, all of which demand constantly updated, reliable, available and easily accessible data anytime, anywhere.”
In more general terms, cloud computing offers mobility to what constitutes a changing global workforce that works from anywhere, anytime and on any device. The cloud also enhances collaboration across interoperable systems and communities of practices by promoting co-authoring practices. In addition, the cloud creates a secure, integrated enterprise online environment that is accessible remotely. Finally, cloud enterprise services are generally reliable.
“Web applications on iSTARS generally have a lifetime of less than a year, after which the application is replaced by a new, enhanced version, deleted because it did not attract any users, or in some cases even merged into another application,” Merens explained. “Our approach requires constant innovation, which is a good thing. The fact of the matter is that the cloud is the future, and sooner or later, all data-conscious organizations will have to integrate it to their architectures.”

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