Product interoperability effort is showing promise

Consoritium developing standards to allow easier tech combinations

A consortium of IT companies is developing standards to make cross-product interoperability a reality. By allowing a range of applications and tools to work together with a minimum of configuration, the standards could potentially save governments millions of dollars that they now spend on getting equipment and systems to work together.

The Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium highlighted the fruits of its labor at a briefing Sept. 29. They include the first of a series of certified industry tools designed to promote interoperability and the validation of a less expensive means for companies and governments to synchronize and share information through their various simulation laboratories.

The NCOIC has been developing a series of efforts that include a set of industry-wide standards and a "Building Blocks" certification program to ensure that products meet those standards. The consortium launched Building Blocks in June after two years of developing and vetting network-centric templates to guide firms designing and building IT and communications products.

The SECCOM Secure Exchange Gateway (SEG) developed by EADS, is a rugged military product designed to safely filter data between classified and unclassified domains. The SEG is the first product certified with the NCOIC’s official seal of approval. Consortium officials noted that tools such as the SEG are useful in coalition military operations, such as Afghanistan because they allow commands and other vital data to be safely transmitted between different international forces.

NCOIC officials also discussed results of recent work of the consortium’s Lab Interoperability Project. The goal of the effort is to help facilitate the testing and development of products in a joint environment by making industry simulation laboratories more interoperable.

This year, several NCOIC member companies -- Boeing, EADS, Lockheed Martin, Finmeccanica, IBM, Thales, Raytheon and Cisco -- collaborated to link 10 transatlantic laboratories in real time. According to NCOIC, a major cost factor during international simulation exercises is synching the equipment and software between different company simulation laboratories. By using a common set of standards, the consortium demonstrated that this process could take place in six weeks and cost 66 percent less than current methods.

The industry team also used cloud computing methods to help speed the interoperability process, said Wesley Rhodes, deputy chief technology officer for IBM's U.S. Federal business group. Moving the software from Finmeccanica and Thales servers to a virtual instance in Dublin, Ireland, greatly accelerated the set-up process between labs. Rhodes said that it took four days to physically set up the new instance and then only 30 minutes to transfer participating company’s data to the cloud.

This will allow companies and governments to cooperate more quickly and less expensively, NCOIC Executive Director Carl Schwab said. He noted that the consortium is working with a variety of governments and international groups such as NATO to further refine interoperability standards.

NCOIC officials said that the next step is to codify a “how-to” process that will permit any organization to link its laboratories to others, whether in industry or government, in a way that will protect each organization’s intellectual property.  

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