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As part of a restructuring of the organisation’s US-based data centres, the acronym-laden NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) today announced that its ACT (Allied Command Transformation) will be deploying IBM‘s PCS (Private Cloud Solution*) inside its HQ SACT (Headquarters, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation) in Norfolk, VA.

According to IBM’s E.J. Herold, the company is delivering the software component of their ‘Cloud in a Box’ solution. Normally sold alongside racks full of IBM blades, the NATO installation will see IBM’s software running on the data centre’s existing (mixed) hardware. A second extant data centre – in San Diego, CA – will also be shut down as part of the transformation.

Comprising 28 members from Albania to the United States, NATO constantly grapples with issues of interoperability. 28 members, plus NATO itself, means (at least!) 29 different IT infrastructures, (at least) 29 different communications protocols, and (at least) 29 different views on the standards and specifications to underpin any one IT deployment. In operational environments, whether military or peace keeping, limitations in interoperability of IT inevitably lead to expense, confusion, delay… and perhaps loss of life. Following NATO’s summit in Lisbon last month, the organisation reaffirmed the importance of greater cooperation between partners.

Today’s announcement aligns well with this new ‘Strategic Concept,’ delivering a cost-effective test and development environment to the ACT. According to IBM’s press release,

“The on-premise cloud will be used to test and develop network solutions for command, control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance projects. The goal is to demonstrate how recent developments in cloud computing can reduce ramp-up time for enhanced technology capabilities, while improving important operational functions, such as increasing situational awareness and faster decision-making.”

In this initial test/dev deployment, it is anticipated that IBM’s solution will enable NATO to more rapidly explore a range of scenarios for collaboration and data exchange across the Alliance. Broader roll-out of the Cloud solution itself may follow in due course, initially to other NATO sites, but ultimately into the military infrastructure of NATO’s members. IBM’s Herold suggests that, with this project, NATO ACT is taking a leadership role in developing techniques and solutions that will make NATO itself more effective… and eventually trickle down into the internal practices of NATO member states.

Here, as in so many other markets, the relative safety of test&dev is an obvious place to begin exploring the potential – and pitfalls – of a Cloud solution. As more data centres – and more partners – become involved in future deployments, the ugly spectre of security will of course raise its head. But if NATO and its members can (mostly) keep their existing infrastructure secure, a private cloud should be no more risky…

Today’s announcement is relatively modest, and many purists would argue that it’s not even a Cloud. But it’s a tentative first step for a security-conscious organisation made up of (at least) 28 frequently paranoid military hierarchies, and will become far more interesting – and challenging – as it expands beyond the (relatively) safe confines of a single data centre inside a US Naval Base. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

* ok, I made that one up.