NATO network passes bandwidth and security requirements challenges

Depending on the point of view, setting up the technical end of the recent NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting in Toronto was either straightforward or quite complex.

Major Ghislain Lagace, of National Defence Headquarters and part of the planning committee for the meeting, said he was generally happy with the network set up for the meeting by CTI Solutions Group.

“It was a pretty straightforward LAN installation. Nothing out of the ordinary,” said Lagace.

But Terry Valler, project manager for CTI in Toronto, had a different story to tell. He said the project involved extending the Department of National Defence’s WAN to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC).

“The Canadian delegation, which were the people responsible for running the meeting…literally had to move their Ottawa office to the MTCC downtown. For us to support them in doing that, they needed a connection out of Ottawa to transmit their mail and data or whatever to DND Downsview (a Toronto base), and then it would be retransmitted from there by ISDN line, originally, to the MTCC,” said Valler.

“Eventually we put in a frame relay connection because of the amount of data being transmitted in and out of Downsview. ISDN wasn’t fast enough, so we had to pull a lot of strings to get a frame relay installed in five days. If you’ve ever tried to do one of those, you’ll know that’s an amazing time scale.”

Valler said CTI installed the Cisco framing hardware at Downsview and then installed a duplicate network at the MTCC. Included in the installation were 75 Pentium II PCs from various vendors, Internet access, 40 printers, and an Ethernet network with hubs and switches to support existing fibre connections within the MTCC.

“We completely wired a section of room 808 (at the MTCC) for about 50 users. The wiring was installed in a special harness so we could effectively place it and remove it very quickly, because we only had the 22 nd (of September) from four o’clock onwards to remove everything from the building. The whole thing was stripped and removed by 10 o’clock.”

To add to the confusion, the NATO group wanted machines at Pearson International Airport so as delegates arrived in the city they could be booked through the system.

“They were co-ordinating cars, hotels, everything through these connections out at the airport. There we were running V.90 dial-in through a TimeStep firewall to the MTCC,” Valler said.

“They instigated some very stringent security policies in terms of NT set-up and protocols being used and they put sniffers on the line to make sure nobody was looking at the data transfers back and forth,” he said. “We were responsible for a lot of security issues like router configurations and switch configurations that were encrypted.”

Valler’s 15 staff members all had to be cleared for Level One security from Ottawa, and worked in shifts to provide 24-hour technical support during the meetings. All equipment was thoroughly inspected by security personnel before Valler and his team could set it up.

“They need to be checked for bugs and all that sort of stuff… Everything that was brought in was security scanned and sniffed by the dogs for bombs. We didn’t really have any open windows to bring stuff in during the actual meetings. It was taking three to four hours to get stuff through security. So I just made the decision to bring more hardware in (before the meeting), so should we have failures – and we did have a few – the replacements were already on site and already security cleared.”