In-Q-Tel buying into data analytics

The CIA's venture fund steps up its investments in data visualization and real-time analytics.

In-Q-Tel Inc., the CIA's venture capital arm, has been steadily investing in emerging data analytics startups with the goal of bridging the gap between streaming real-time data and U.S. intelligence agencies' huge backlog of historical data.

In-Q-Tel's latest technology development partnership announced Thursday is with Zoomdata Inc., a visual analytics specialist. The startup was among a group of technology vendors whose platforms were recently added to CIA vendor Amazon Web Services' cloud marketplace. The AWS platform serves 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.

The partnership with Zoomdata follows a similar deal announced in June with Databricks, which is commercializing a real-time processing engine based on the open-source Apache Spark project. In neither case did In-Q-Tel reveal the amount it was investing.

The AWS marketplace is designed to allow U.S. intelligence agencies to quickly purchase and deploy software infrastructure and development tools. The platform is part of the Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) program overseen by the IT enterprise branch of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In-Q-Tel said the partnership with Zoomdata would extend the investment arm's existing federal efforts that include availability of tools via AWS C2S and GovCloud along with development of new cloud-based services through federal partners such as Northrop Grumman and Unisys.

Zoomdata CEO Justin Langseth said the deal also would make it easier for U.S. intelligence agencies to develop and deploy cloud-based visual analytics applications by eliminating the need to negotiate individual contracts. In that sense, the U.S. spy agencies are pioneering adoption of flexible cloud options as much of the rest of the federal government struggles to make the transition to cloud computing.

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Zoomdata's visual analytics platform is based on patented data “sharpening” and micro-query technologies.  Its Fusion tool is designed to join big data with other data stores while leveraging emerging IT micro-services to speed up delivery of visual analytics.

Earlier this summer, In-Q-Tel announced a technology partnership with Databricks to extend the Apache Spark processing engine to the U.S. intelligence community's cloud to support "operational requirements." The Databricks investment "reflects the need for big data simplicity and accessibility that we’re seeing among several industries, including federal," said company executive chairman Ion Stoica.

The investment also reflects In-Q-Tel's attempt to keep pace with cloud-based analytics tools such as Spark that are already attracting heavy investments from enterprise IT companies like IBM.