NATO launches IT modernization

NATO outlines IT modernization

"The future combat system is not an aircraft," said Gen. Denis Mercier, it’s a cloud-based information system. “This is what we have to be able to build for the future, but we have to start it now.”     

Mercier, who will leave his position in the French Air Force to assume Supreme Allied Commander Transformation at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, outlined NATO’s vision of a combat cloud at a recent press briefing, according to a report in Defense News.  

The 28-nation body, which includes the United States, Canada and a host of European nations, has been faced with increasing conflicts from Libya’s civil uprising in 2011 to persistent Russian aggression in Eastern Europe dating back to last year.  As such, the need for efficient, reliable and secure lines of communication between partner nations is essential.  Many national military bodies have experimented with cloud-based services, but leveraging such systems with 28 different countries poses significant challenges as each partner possesses different vehicles, sensors, tactics and procedures. 

NATO launched “the end of the beginning” of its IT modernization process at the end of April with an invitation for bids for technical solutions that will move the organization from a “posture of localized service provision to one of centralized provision.”  According to NATO’s release, the process will take around five and a half years.

The IT modernization project aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of NATO’s technology posture by:

  • Replacing obsolete IT infrastructure with standard solutions
  • Quantifying and increasing the availability of service levels
  • Implementing NATO-wide business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities
  • Enhancing information security
  • Reallocating resources dynamically, as dictated by the operational situation
  • Enabling a mobile work force
  • Reducing the manpower and operations and maintenance costs

“The release of the IFB package to industry is a major milestone in the journey to a new, cloud-based, infrastructure for NATO…. It marks the start of a transition from an old 20th century IT posture to a modern, future looking cloud-based approach,” said Koen Gijsbers, general manager of the NATO Communications and Information Agency, the organization’s IT support office.

Three main data centers operated by the selected contractor will operate in Mons, Belgium; Lago Patria, Italy; and Brussels, Belgium, NATO said.  Additionally, a service operations center (virtually split across two locations) will allow central management and control of all of the data services. In total, the IT modernization will touch 44 sites, 18,000 users and 31,000 devices across NATO.

For military operations, the cloud can serve as a vital resource for increased cooperation and most importantly, security and safety for soldiers.  “Fundamentally, more than anything else, NATO needs interoperability, it needs defined standards so we can pass data very quickly between NATO countries,” said Alan Shaffer, principal deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense Research and Engineering at the press briefing.

The IT modernization will be based on a private, on-premises cloud that builds on existing NATO services, such as its communications infrastructure, the NATO Cyber Incident Response Center and public internet access gateways. 

Technology, people and process are the three pillars of modernization effort, according to a recent briefing.  Specifically, NATO envisions a technical solution that encompass hardware, software, migration, service management and control automation as well as contracted logistics support. 

Enterprise core services, such as the high-availability exchange services, will be consolidated and centralized, applications will be centralized but not consolidated and legacy applications will be neither centralized nor consolidated.   

NATO’s IT modernization is in the initial stages, and officials expect work to continue through 2022.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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