GCHQ is heavily dependent on its use of technology in order to execute its vital intelligence mission. An increasingly rapidly changing digital world demands a furious pace of innovation in our technical systems. We achieve this with the support of modern technologies, the right skills, and an appetite to learn. Our culture and ways of working are agile yet integrated, allowing us to operate at Internet pace in the Information Age - receiving industry recognition at the final of the Large IT Department of the year awards 2011.
Our technical role supports the functions needed by any large organisation such as business systems and email servers. Unlike most organisations though we have a less visible side in order to produce intelligence. A summary of some of our engineering functions is outlined below.
GCHQ has been partnering with industry to reduce time to market for application deployment, improve utilisation of hardware, reduce power consumption, and leverage the experience and buying power of industry. Our new approach has established a focus on Service Delivery using industry Service Management expertise.
This has resulted in the computing capacity at GCHQ being managed by industry partners who provide a common environment for GCHQ applications comprising computing and storage services managed against agreed service levels. There is extensive use of commodity servers running the Linux and Windows operating systems. Also High Performance and Enterprise computing is part of GCHQ's computer architecture supporting, for example, very large databases. Use of virtualisation technology has been trialled and is planned to be rolled out. One of the innovations being investigated and planned for rollout in 2009 is to allow developers to self manage their virtual computing capacity.
GCHQ is involved in all aspects of modern telecommunications. We use a wide variety of systems designed to operate on all frequencies over which data can be transmitted. GCHQ is an acknowledged world leader in antenna design and systems analysis.
GCHQ's work throws up a number of obstacles not normally encountered in the commercial world. Our challenge is to cope with these obstacles and produce intelligence that is highly accurate, timely and reliable.
All GCHQ systems are linked together on the largest local area network in Europe - which is connected to other sites around the world via one of the largest wide area networks on earth. Our local area network is Ethernet/Internet Protocol (IP). The wide area network uses high-speed public networks protected by cryptographic equipment designed, manufactured and tested in the UK.
GCHQ's unique challenges mean that our engineers have to develop a large amount of bespoke software for us and our partners. Technically challenging, these often require highly advanced mathematical and software techniques rarely found in the commercial world, as well as professional business change skills. Our systems operate on a vast scale and our techniques often have to adapt to a rapid rate of change. We utilise industry best practice developing on a wide range of platforms.
The scope of our work includes everything from "front end" systems which process high speed analogue and digital links - finding and interpreting useful data - to large database and analytical systems as well as the myriad of business systems needed to manage our business effectively.
In response to the challenges of today's rapidly changing Internet environment we are changing fast - investing in innovation and novel ways of working. Our dynamic teams vary from huge multi-million pound projects to agile teams formed from very small numbers of experts.
Our software environment is made up of a wide array of computer hardware running Linux, Windows and Unix operating systems. Popular programming languages include C, C++ and Java though of course many others are used. Much of our development is either for real-time systems, or are enterprise scale applications typically written using JEE. Our database systems are primarily Oracle based interfacing with Java applications.
Much of our work involves Internet and telecoms technologies and engineers will find themselves working with a diverse set of teams and experts on a variety of challenging problems. We use best practice from agile methodologies, RUP, OO and patterns and we provide training to all of our engineers to support this.
Very High Speed Integrated Circuit (VHSIC) Hardware Description Language (VHDL) is used in system development stages. Circuits are implemented in discrete components, Integrated Circuits (ICs), Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) and Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs).
Most systems are PC based or rack mounted, although some have more demanding requirements. GCHQ is moving towards CE safety accreditation for all new systems, although all field systems are already fully Tempest tested.