The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is just about as complex as organizations get. Its 28 nations cooperate on a common purpose but maintain separate defense forces and technology infrastructures. It’s a federation without a king–or a common way of handling data and communications.
Sounds like a job for cloud computing–with its promise of consolidating and standardizing data processing in ways that not only save money but enhance collaboration.
That’s the promise, anyway. To see if the cloud is all it’s cracked up to be, NATO is running a couple of experiments, one involving IBM and another involving another tech supplier. The alliance’s Allied Command Transformation division announced the deal with IBM today. The project will enable ACT to explore and demonstrate a new on-premises cloud computing model that can be used to integrate and improve data sharing in command and control programs shared by the member nations. “This is a technology that’s here to stay. NATO can’t ignore it,” says Johan Goossens, branch head for technology and human factors at NATO ACT.
This experiment has implications far beyond NATO, though. Most early cloud initiatives involve homogeneous computing environments–all the same computers and software applications. NATO’s computing is by necessity heterogeneous. So making the pieces work well together will require some IT diplomacy. “We hope that all 28 nations will be marching in this direction, so we hope there’s a promise of cloud federation,” says Goossens. If technology companies like IBM can get disparate computing technologies to play nicely together in the cloud, the transformative potential of the cloud concept could be even bigger than its boosters have predicted–which is saying a lot.
The initial experiment will have NATO and IBM consolidating two data centers into one and organizing it based on cloud technologies and principles. NATO will use the environment to test whether some of its complex applications work well in the cloud.
Data security will be one of the key issues they’ll confront. The expectation is that the cloud will actually enhance security. “With Wikileaks, we see some of the security challenges,” says E.J. Herold, the NATO account manager for IBM. “We can point to this and say you can collaborate and exchange information, but at the same time keep it very secure.”
Today, a lot of NATO information sharing is done the old-fashioned way, by handing off stacks of paper. The alliance isn’t getting the full benefit of network computing. So the cloud could make a huge difference–if these experiments succeed. Early days; but big implications.