Edgecase 2023: the (military) edge of tomorrow

Tags: kubernetes

(One of my summaries of the 2023 Dutch edgecase k8s conference in Utrecht, NL).

Talk by John Stroosnijder and Stefan van Gastel from the Dutch ministry of defence. There was a disclaimer at the start that the talk was about potential, experimental stuff and that it doesn’t represent the current active policy of the ministry. Also some descriptions will be a bit vague due to logical reasons.

Lots of attention goes to innovation and improvement. They want information superiority. And they want to be flexible, also when deploying (in the military sense) quickly.

“Our edge is not your edge”, probably. They don’t have lots of public cloud usage.

  • Fixed data centers.

  • Deployed edge: for instance data centers in containers when on a military mission.

  • Mobile edge. Vehicles, ships, planes. When you’re on a ship at sea, everything just has to work. He also showed one of their newer edge locations: a truck with a mobile data center.

  • Dismounted edge: the individual soldiers with hand-held equipment or something in his or her backpack.

  • Unmanned and IoT: drones and sensors.

They have some unique challenges. Everything has to work, period. If it doesn’t work, lifes are at risk. It has to be light-weight, as extra weight needs to be moved. Energy efficient with low need for recharging. It needs to be rugged. If you fall in the water, your equipment needs to keep working. If you’re dropped out of an airplane, too. Some shocks might occur. And complexity needs to be low: if you’re under fire, you don’t have time for kubectl commands… And if you’re firing a gun, you’re probably not an IT expert.

What they would like is to have simple, lightweight, versatile solutions. Kobernetes is one of the technologies they use.

Regarding security: they don’t want to make compromises. They’re not allowed to make any compromises.

They showed some hardware. And hardware ideas. Including a electric jeep-like vehicle (with a diesel range externder) including solar panels for electric power and some of the IT equipment.

Another experiment was about tactical k8s cluster federation at the edge (there’s a kubecon talk with a longer version. Kubernetes in the field, possibly as an offline cluster. And things like data uploads and software updates for the vehicles when they’re back at the base… Nice.

There are challenges in the field. Cluster members might temporarily lose connection to the cluster. This happens regularly in military reality, so they use custom functionality to prevent too-quickly rescheduling tasks.

I also got the impression that they could install new software functionality on the fly, based on the kinds of sensors (like a reaper drone) they had to interface with at that moment. Another example they mentioned is doing a live LIDAR radar terrain scan and having software locally that can update the maps. Anyway, lots of really interesting stuff! Nice talk.

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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