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The Rising Importance of the Personal Information Assistant

The majority of the 2.5 million military, civilian or reserve personnel in the U.S. Defense Department do not care much about the technical details of computing. Users only wish to receive answers reliably and quickly. Requested information needs to be available regardless of the computing device they use. Responses must be secure. No restrictions should hamper access by certified users communicating from remote locations. Information has to be available for people authorized to make use of what they receive.

Information sources must include data received from people, from sensors or from public websites. Information must be available to and from ground locations, ships, submarines, airplanes and satellites. A user must be able to connect with every government agency as well as with allies.

What the Defense Department customer wishes to have is a personal information assistant (PIA). Such a device matches a person’s identity. It is configured to adapt to changing levels of training. It understands the user’s verbal or analytic skills. It knows where the person is at all times. Any security restrictions are reconfigured to fit a user’s current job. Every PIA is monitored at all times from several network control centers that are operated by long-tenured Defense Department information professionals and not by contractors.

What a user sees on a display are either graphic applications or choices of text. The user only needs to enter authentication signatures.

Defense Department users will not know the location of the servers that drive their PIA. The user does not care which operating system the applications is using or how a graphical display on the PIA is generated. Which programming language is used is irrelevant. If a message is encrypted, the embedded security will authorize decryption. Although the department has thousands of applications, the user will be able to see only those applications that correspond to the situation for which use is authorized.

What the users then hold in their hands reflects what is known as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud. SaaS is the ultimate form of cloud computing. It delivers what a user can put to use without delay. It is an inexpensive computing solution for everyone, everywhere, by any computing method.

However, SaaS is not the only model for cloud computing. There are private and public infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) clouds. Private and public platform-as-a-service (PaaS) clouds also are available. Some existing legacy applications ultimately will be replaced, but in the meantime, they will be placed on the Defense Department networks as virtual computers.

Virtualized legacy applications can be useful if encapsulated within an IaaS structure. During the transition from legacy to SaaS computing, every PIA will be able to access all information. The result will be the Defense Department Hybrid Cloud.


A transition into hybrid computing is a concept of what could be available universally to everyone in the Defense Department. The centerpiece of the Defense Department’s future computing network will then be the ubiquitous PIA—not the servers, not the networks and not the data centers. Servers, networks and data centers are necessary, but concentrating on them represents an obsolete way of thinking. What matters now is the PIA, which is the computing appliance that delivers an all-inclusive computing experience. The user sees only the results. All the details regarding how results are calculated remain invisible.

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