DNA: Marines tap Microsoft's Distributed interNet Architecture to keep track of recruit processing

Marines recruit DNA

By Richard W. Walker

GCN Staff

About four years ago, officials at the Marine Recruiting Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., decided to automate their system for directing and monitoring enlistment processing for new recruits.

They dubbed it the Joint Recruiting Information Support System, or JRISS.

But JRISS never got off the ground. It was put on ice because of insufficient funding.

Microsoft Distributed interNet Architecture helps a Marine Corps center build an
affordable Web-enabled system for tracking
enlistments - Maj. Michael Asmus and two recruits: Emily Syling and Joe Todara

When the recruiters revived the idea in 1998, one thing was certain: The system had to be cost-effective.

They found the answer in Microsoft Corp.'s Distributed interNet Architecture, or DNA, a platform for building Web applications.

'When recruits take the oath of enlistment, we start capturing data on them,' said Maj. Michael Asmus, deputy director of information technology for Marine recruiting.

That data has to be available to recruiting officers around the country as they guide the recruits through enlistment processing.

Centralized application

For example, officers have to schedule and track physical and psychological examinations, which may take place in different locations, and report the results of the tests.

Until recently, information about recruits was centralized in a mainframe database and there was no distributed system that let recruiting officers access the information to schedule and track new Marines as they went through the enlistment procedures.

'We needed a system that supports our workflow,' said Asmus. 'So we decided we were going to continue where JRISS left off.'

Asmus knew exactly what sort of system was required.

'For cost savings, I wanted a centralized application,' he said. 'I didn't want client-server or something. I still wanted something where all my data was centralized'I liked the mainframe aspect of that. But I knew we needed a Web application that was reliable and could support several hundred users.'

Scalability, however, wasn't a major concern. 'I didn't need a system that was going to have thousands of users on it,' Asmus said.

But when it came time to solicit ideas from vendors, Asmus didn't hear what he wanted'except from Microsoft.

'Everyone else was trying to sell me a Cadillac when a Honda would do the job,' he said. 'They were trying to sell me an Enterprise JavaBeans architecture or something like that. I said, 'I don't need all of that.' And we already had a Windows NT-centric environment. All of our servers run NT. My clients are predominantly NT workstations.'

Everyone else was trying to sell
me a Cadillac when a Honda would do the job.

Asmus became convinced that DNA was the logical choice because it was less expensive than other systems, would provide the stability he was looking for and it fit with the center's NT Server 4.0 environment.

In addition, it was a proven architecture, he said.

'Microsoft had benchmark results [for DNA] using real-world applications,' he said. 'The other vendors had lab environment results. I'm sure their architectures work well in a Unix environment and the like, but I didn't need high-scale Unix servers. And I wasn't going to pay more than I needed to.'

Last January, Asmus and his staff began building the new system, called the Marine Corps Recruiting Information Support System.

Writing in Visual Basic, they developed the system using three Microsoft DNA components: Active Server Page on the front end, Transaction Server in the middle tier and SQL Server 7.0 as the database.

They built the system, which runs on a cluster of Dell PowerEdge 6300 servers, to handle about 200 simultaneous users.

'We actually have about 1,000 user accounts, but we don't envision having any more than 200 on the system at once,' Asmus said.

Evolving DNA

Microsoft's DNA has evolved from an assortment of Web applications to a fully integrated Web application infrastructure, said Barry Gosse, the company's group manager for Windows DNA.

'When we rolled out [the DNA] architecture three years ago, it was really about how customers could stitch together Microsoft's myriad of products and technologies to build Internet solutions,' he said.

Before that, he said, 'there hadn't been an enormous amount of thought put into the individual products and how to get them to work together in a consistent way.'

All DNA components are now designed to work together fluidly, although they are still licensed individually.

'We're delivering an application infrastructure that is absolutely integrated with itself as well as integrated with key Web standards,' Gosse said.

'It not a bunch of individual stovepipe products that we just throw together and expect our customers to figure out how to get them to work together. For example, Exchange Server is designed to be integrated with SQL Server and SQL Server is designed to be integrated with Exchange Server.'

Maj. Michael Asmus, deputy director of information technology, supervises the server farm at the Marine Recruiting Center in Fort Belvoir, Va.

Microsoft plans to launch seven new server products by the end of the year that will make up Windows DNA 2000, beginning with SQL Server 2000 and Exchange Server 2000.

The company also is integrating Extensible Markup Language into its latest DNA components, Gosse said.

Faith in XML

'Microsoft believes very deeply that XML is the lingua franca that will make next-generation Internet commerce possible because of its ability to work across platforms and because it is optimized for the way the Internet works,' he said. 'SQL Server 2000, our enterprise database, has XML integration all the way down to the core, so we make it easy to store and retrieve XML from applications or from other components of the DNA platform.'

Users can pick and choose DNA products based on their needs, Gosse said, and build a small-scale system such as the Marine recruiting information system, or a large-scale, electronic-commerce system.

Asmus said there are no immediate plans to migrate to Win 2000 and the latest DNA versions.

'Our strategy for migrating to Windows 2000 will probably be bottom up,' he said. 'We'll try to get most of our clients on 2000 [Professional] first and then make the leap to 2000 [Server] on our servers. But we don't plan to do it any time real soon.'

For Asmus, the biggest benefit for the Marine Corps of building its recruiting support system with DNA is the total cost of ownership.

'The performance we're getting has been great and the cost to operate and maintain it is really a great value for us,' he said.

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