JPLwashes hands of PC work

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is turning over its client-server management to a
prime contractor after putting up for years with spacecraft designers spending agency time
as systems managers.

Interplanetary space exploration just isn't the same as managing service levels on
client-server networks, said Richard Green, deputy manager of the Institutional Computing
and Information Services Office at JPL.

"We certainly don't give ourselves a very high grade on our desktop and computing
management," he said.

NASA centers have been outsourcing their seat management to reduce operational staff
and manage information resources more efficiently. Top NASA officials made it clear they
wanted JPL to downsize, too, Green said.

The Pasadena, Calif., lab awarded a $200 million desktop services management contract
to OAO Corp. of Greenbelt, Md., in December and signed the contract last month.

The fixed-price, performance-based contract covers 8,000 desktop PC systems and servers
that run JPL's internal administrative applications, primarily Microsoft Office and
timekeeping and accounting programs.

If JPL decides to extend the coverage to Unix workstations, OAO could become
responsible for all but 100 or so mission-critical systems used for spacecraft command and
control and for initial decoding of telemetry data.

The lab would exercise the Unix option only if things go well on the PC and Macintosh
side. "Unix is much more diverse, so we thought we'd try to walk before we run,"
Green said.

OAO has chosen Command/Post Agent 3.5 and 3,400 Command/Post Power Modules from Boole
& Babbage Inc. of San Jose, Calif., to monitor and automate critical management tasks
under the contract.

JPL managers expect the outsourcing to instill better awareness of computing costs
because, like most organizations, the lab has been funding desktop services through a
hodgepodge of direct and indirect sources.

"When you don't know the cost, you tend to make less-economical decisions,"
Green said.

Under the new contract, JPL has begun charging each individual user account for the
computing service levels required, and that money goes toward the contract, he said.

The prospect of taking politics out of managing desktop computer assets was an aspect
of outsourcing that JPL managers also found appealing. "When it's done internally,
internal politics come into play," Green said.

He said he certainly won't miss the old way of managing desktop services. "We have
lots of engineers who think, heck, I can put a computer together and tie it to the
network," he said, so the uniformity "is pretty poor."

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