New Navy ship would have made Grace Hopper proud -

SAN FRANCISCO--The new USS Hopper runs on a LAN.


A portrait of the late Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper, mother of Cobol and a computing
pioneer, hangs in the wardroom of the Navy destroyer. It was commissioned early this month
to honor her as the Navy's first female admiral.


Her portrait watches over one of the first-ever Navy vessels administered through a LAN
that supports notebook computers as well as desktop systems--25 of each.


"I get all my unclassified message traffic on a notebook," said Cmdr. Thomas
D. Crowley, a 1978 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.


In the late 1980s, when PCs began arriving on ships in a big way, CPUs and monitors had
to be strapped down to desks as protection against high seas.


Crowley keeps one Compaq Computer Corp. Contura notebook at his side on the bridge of
the $800 million ship and another anchored to a monitor and keyboard in his stateroom.


"The notebook and the LAN are my primary means of disseminating tasks,"
Crowley said. "I use our e-mail system to communicate with my department heads and
down the chain of command, and in reverse, they send me draft enhancements to
procedures."


Such two-way communication once required paper and shipboard meetings. Now the LAN
keeps down the number of meetings.


"Any meeting you don't have is a good meeting," Crowley said. "Our ship
was built with 100 LAN drops."


So far, only about half are connected, but plans call for adding more hookups.


Crowley, his executive officer, department heads and others have Compaq notebooks to
support the Hopper's mission as an antiwarfare vessel that can oppose land, sea and air
combatants.


Its transit cruise from San Diego to San Francisco this month netted no combat
encounters, although an emergency helicopter landing added excitement. The copter, en
route from another Navy vessel, needed to refuel as it brought a sick seaman ashore for
treatment.


In peacetime, about 300 people live and work on board seven days a week. Most crew
members are in their late teens or early twenties.


Lt. Cmdr. Robert Kerso coordinates the work of the departments that maintain the ship's
mechanical, weaponry and other systems. He also schedules events. As executive officer in
charge of day-to-day operations, Kerso makes heavy use of his network connection from his
stateroom.


"I have access to several databases," Kerso said. "I can look and see
what parts are on order, place orders and see the maintenance schedule. I can go into word
processing and draft a letter and send it via Lotus cc:Mail to a yeoman and never leave my
desk. No one has to type it up, run off copies and put them in people's in-boxes. E-mail
is the biggest benefit of having the LAN."


Kerso said the crew plans to use the network as a "deconfliction" tool.
"The toughest thing on a ship is trying to be in two places at once. I can use
Microsoft Project to schedule an event and link people to it. Then I can schedule another
event and run a deconfliction tool and manually handle it," he said.


The project management software is available to all departments, as is the Microsoft
Office suite, e-mail, and training and reference tools. An AST Research Inc. Pentium
server with 2G hard drive plays traffic cop for the LAN, which runs Microsoft Windows for
Workgroups 3.11 and Novell NetWare.


The ship, like the rest of the Navy, expects to upgrade to Windows NT networks by 2000.
Separately, the Navy is moving ahead with plans to implement Defense Message System
versions of Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes messaging software, though neither is yet
part of the Hopper's complement.


Lt. Cmdr. Jose Testa, the ship's combat systems officer, has two centerpieces on his
stateroom desk: a Compaq notebook PC and a Hewlett-Packard Co. portable printer.


"I was a computer illiterate a couple of years ago," Testa said. "Now we
talk to each other over the LAN, because there's only so much time in a day and sometimes
you can't get to everyone. The only problem is when it
goes down [for maintenance]. Then everybody goes nuts."


Maintenance takes place on a regular schedule, said radioman Sherri Cart, who has
ridden herd on the ship's LAN since June. Cart makes frequent server backups. If the main
server goes down, she can bring an alternate server up in about half a day.


Redundancy and reliability are essential, Cart said, because it's hard to schedule
service calls in the middle of the ocean.


The Hopper's LAN backbone is fiber-optic, and each connection goes redundantly to two
separate routers. The notebooks make LAN connections via PC Cards from Xircom Inc. of
Thousand Oaks, Calif.


"I have more LAN problems in a shore installation than I have on a ship,"
Crowley said, echoing others' sentiments that the Hopper network functions well.


Cart added, "If you do your backups and maintenance, things work."


For now, desktop messaging is limited to intraship e-mail and messages exchanged over
the Navy's nonsecure messaging system. A separate network can carry notes over the
Internet to family back home, at a cost of $1 to $2 per message sent or received.


At some point, Crowley hopes the ship will get World Wide Web and personal e-mail
connections on the LAN.


For now, however, the USS Hopper's officers are content with e-mail on their notebook
PCs. "I can't do my job without it," Kerso said.


Meanwhile, the Navy has opened a new Web page at http://www.chips.navy.mil/chips/grace_hopper that will post reminiscences about the late admiral.


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