Innovating IT Infrastructure at Next NGA West

Whether you’re talking about trucks or tradecraft, it’s not enough to be shiny and new; what really matters is what’s happening under the hood.


In May 2021, Ford announced the “truck of the future”—the all-electric Ford F-150 Lightning, which will be the first fully electric full-size pickup truck in the United States when it rolls onto American roadways in spring 2022. It’s a pretty truck with all kinds of high-tech features, including hands-free driving, the ability to use your smartphone as a key, and onboard scales that use built-in sensors to estimate payload.

All the bells and whistles in the world mean nothing, however, if the truck doesn’t actually perform. Which is why Ford endowed the F-150 Lightning with 563 horsepower and 775 pounds of torque per foot—the most torque of any F-150 ever—as well as a high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloy body that supports a maximum 2,000-pound payload and up to 10,000-pound towing capacity.

If you’re wondering what the Ford F-150 Lightning has to do with GEOINT, here it is: Whether you’re talking about trucks or tradecraft, it’s not enough to be shiny and new; what really matters is what’s happening under the hood.

That was apparent Friday afternoon at GEOINT 2021, where a panel of five leaders from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) gathered to discuss the IT infrastructure that they’re planning and developing for Next NGA West (N2W), NGA’s cutting-edge new GEOINT campus that’s opening in 2025 in north St. Louis. Titled “NGA’s N2W IT Modernization,” the discussion featured, among others: Chris Ashabranner, associate deputy program director, IT & Readiness, N2W; Mark Chatelain, associate chief information officer; and Scott Gum, assistant program manager, IT, N2W.

At the core of the conversation were four overarching IT goals that NGA has for N2W, the first of which is secure wireless.

“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have wired connectivity in the building, but we are trying to roll out—which is somewhat unusual for an [Intelligence Community] campus—a secure wireless networking solution throughout the entire building,” reported Ashabranner, who said N2W will feature a radio frequency (RF)-based wireless network whose secure architecture was inspired by a similar network at Fort Meade. Eventually, however, NGA might also deploy Li-Fi networks, or optical networks, which utilize light to transmit data instead of radio. “Optical networking is much less finicky about the environment you try to deploy it into. Shielding and such is much easier in that kind of a solution.”

Other goals for IT modernization at N2W include zero-client computing, a server-based computing model wherein end users’ devices have no local storage on them; hybrid and multi-cloud architecture, which is closely related to zero-client computing; and multi-level access, which eventually will allow information to move seamlessly yet securely across classification levels and domains.

The net effect of these solutions—each of which NGA is currently testing in St. Louis at its existing 2nd Street campus—is not just smarter, faster, or more secure IT. Ultimately, it’s better intelligence outcomes. Or put another way: more torque and towing capacity.

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