June 18, 2012, 3:38 PM — Scott Hicar
The digital video recorder is the most wonderful technology innovation of the last 20 years. With replay, watching football is a totally different experience. iPhone, Android or BlackBerry? BlackBerry, because my fingers are too fat to type on an iPhone. First job: Scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. A great opportunity to be in front of customers, but not good for the waistline. Off-hours pastime: Mountain biking. When I'm not working, I'm out there somewhere in the Colorado mountains. Favorite movie: My favorite comedy is Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Scott Hicar has a big-data problem. Every year, the DigitalGlobe CIO must find room for another petabyte or two of the imagery that streams from his company's three Earth-imaging satellites. And the scope of that task is going to grow: A fourth satellite is under construction. Processing that data is a massive challenge, as is the task of delivering ever larger volumes to customers, who use DigitalGlobe images for everything from assessing storm damage to providing location-based mobile services. But it's worth the effort: DigitalGlobe helped emergency teams take stock of the devastation in Japan after the April 2011 earthquake and tsunami -- an undertaking that earned the company recognition as a 2012 Computerworld Honors laureate. Here, Hicar talks about how big data is becoming an "immovable object" and why DigitalGlobe is betting on the cloud.
What challenges did you face in processing and distributing data to Japanese emergency responders after the earthquake and tsunami? We worked with Hitachi Defense and targeted our satellites. First responders could see an impact assessment within two hours of the event so they could start to plan. Two years ago, that capability was possible [only] for special circumstances like that event; otherwise, our average load times were in the 12-hour time frame. Now we can take an image from a satellite, downlink it to a ground station, get it back here to Colorado, process it and have it available online in our cloud in under two hours, on average.
What role does IT play in DigitalGlobe's business model? As the leading provider of Earth imagery content and analysis, we are a digital company creating digital products, so IT has a very broad role. We have a network of ground terminals around the world that take information from our satellites, and we provide the telecommunications infrastructure to get that massive amount of content here to our processing facility. We receive 2 to 2.5 petabytes of raw imagery a year from our satellites, we have about 8 petabytes of fresh content on spinning disk, and we have an archive of over 2 million square kilometers of imagery that represents seven or eight years of active collections of the planet.