AF will get 64-bit computing on Sun, Digital workstations
- By Paul Constance
- Apr 01, 1996
The Air Force last month awarded contracts worth up to a total
$956 million to Hughes Data Systems Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. for an estimated 37,000
Over its five-year life, the Air Force Workstations (AFWS) contract is expected to pull
64-bit computing off its pedestal and push it onto ordinary Air Force desktops supporting
everything from battle management and scientific research to mundane logistics
Hughes in Portland, Ore., which will compete with Sun for AFWS task orders, plans to
offer several configurations of Digital Equipment Corp.'s 64-bit Alpha workstations
running Digital Unix 4.O OS (story, Page 52).
Sun, which held the previous Air Force workstation contract, had not released its new
64-bit Ultra machines commercially at proposal due-date last June, so it bid high-end
versions of its 32-bit Sparcstation 20 and 5 models instead. But Sun soon will offer the
Ultras to the Air Force, company officials said.
"We will be able to offer our Ultra machines through the technical refreshment
provisions of the contract," Sun spokesman John Leahy said. Users who buy
Sparcstations also will have the option of upgrading their machines to the Ultra standard
with replacement CPUs.
The AFWS contract calls for low-, medium- and high-performance workstations, a
rack-mountable machine, standard and ruggedized portable workstations, software,
peripherals and integration support. The Air Force's Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom
Air Force Base, Mass., handled the buy.
Also bidding for AFWS were Electronic Data Systems Corp., which teamed with Silicon
Graphics Inc., and Sylvest Management Systems Corp. in Lanham, Md., which bid
Hewlett-Packard Co. workstations. IBM Corp. initially planned to bid but dropped out of
the competition after unsuccessfully protesting the planned benchmark methods [GCN,
July 17, 1995, Page 3].
At press time, neither EDS nor Sylvest had indicated whether it intended to protest the
Air Force's selection.
Besides its own products, Sun will offer RAID storage systems from MountainGate Data
Systems Inc. in Reno, Nev., and relational database software from Oracle Corp. Telos Corp.
in Herndon, Va., will manufacture the portable workstations for Sun using the Sparc 5
110-MHz microprocessor, and Wang Federal Systems in McLean, Va., will provide maintenance
Hughes tapped ECCS Inc. in Tinton Falls, N.J., to supply RAID arrays and also will
offer Oracle RDBMS products. For the 3,500 portable systems called for on AFWS, Hughes
will offer its computers based on Digital's 200 series Alpha chips. Medium- and
high-performance workstations will have 250 series Alpha chips, and an upgrade of the
high-performance machine required by the contract will use Digital's 600 series
Although he declined to disclose pricing details before the protest window closes April
3, Digital vice president James O'Neill said customers will be impressed.
"This was a program we had to win to show our price-performance advantage to the
military and civilian agencies," he said. "It shows that Digital is very serious
about capturing the desktop market in the government."
Gary Ziegler, AFWS program manager at Hughes, said he expected the workstations to find
customers in almost every functional area within the Air Force. The contract also is open
to civilian agencies, which can buy up to 20 percent of total contract value.
Sales of Sun products on AFWS likely will be aided by the fact that the company's
Solaris OS is the only one now listed in the Defense Information Systems Agency's Common
Operating Environment (COE) specifications. The COE will be required for dozens of new
combat support applications in logistics, medical, transport and other functional areas.
Although Digital Unix 4.O is not COE-compliant, Zeigler and executives at DEC said they
were confident it would exceed the Air Force's interoperability requirements.
"We demonstrated the ability to very easily port an Air Force application off a
Sun workstation onto an Alpha during the solicitation," Zeigler said. He added that
Hughes has worked on applications for the Global Command and Control System, which DISA is
using as the basis for defining the departmentwide COE, "so we certainly understand