Guard relies on smart net staff
- By Bill Murray
- Apr 27, 1998
To Maj. Bruce D. Babcock, deciding whether to use Microsoft Exchange 5.0 or 5.5 or to
deploy Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition is easy. Taking care of his 1,300 users is a far
more complicated and crucial matter.
Babcock is chief of the metropolitan area network for the Air National Guard
Communications and Information Branch. The National Guard Bureau, a joint staff for the
Air and Army National Guards, has 800 users at Andrews Air Force Base, plus 350 at the
Pentagon and 150 remote users.
Calling himself more a people person than a technician, Babcock readily acknowledged
other National Guard Bureau employees might have more technical knowledge than he does.
And he has learned to take advantage of his staff's skills, he said.
A dozen part-time administrators in National Guard Bureau organizations assist Babcock
by managing user passwords and doing "over-the-shoulder training," he said.
"They're my eyes and ears," he said. They help him understand user needs
through monthly meetings, he said.
Since Babcock began working in Air Force information technology in 1983, users have
become much more sophisticated. "They read trade publications and attend trade
shows," he said.
Maintaining credibility with his users is an important goal for Babcock, who became MAN
chief at the beginning of this year.
"You can't have a fragile ego," he said. Babcock ran the White House's
computer center from 1991 to 1995.
He has 32 Electronic Data Systems Corp. contract staff members who run a help desk and
perform much of the maintenance and operations for the National Guard Bureau.
On request, he said, military employees can "surge," or work 80-hour weeks,
and civilian and military employees usually accept extra duties. Babcock said he must be
judicious about asking them to work the longer hours, however, because of personnel
He must pay the contract staff overtime pay and make sure work does not fall outside
the scope of the contract. To a greater extent than federal employees, EDS can provide
consulting services to improve the National Guard Bureau's processes, he said.
Desktop PC interfaces that give users seamless access to local, LAN and Internet
applications pose challenges for organizations like his, Babcock said.
"We're very dependent on what [the Microsoft Corp. interface] chooses to
emphasize," he said, in spite of the bureau's concerns about bandwidth and security.
Late last month, for example, a National Guard Bureau user downloaded a beta version of
Microsoft Windows 98 from the vendor's Web site.
Babcock said he tries to use a soft approach with such unauthorized software downloads,
but federal regulations and Defense Department policies on illegal software use and push
technology back him up if necessary.
"When you start pushing information to the desktop, it makes me nervous"
about security, he said.
To ensure software copyright compliance, perform more effective diagnostics, keep a
product inventory and reduce management costs, his organization has turned to Microsoft
Systems Management Server 1.0.
A migration to Windows NT Server 4.0 and Microsoft Outlook is nearly complete, Babcock
said. The network previously ran Vines from Banyan Systems Inc. of Westborough, Mass.
Microsoft Exchange 5.5 is under evaluation but probably won't be deployed until it has
matured, he said.
The bureau's basic desktop platform is a Pentium PC running Windows 95 with 16M of RAM
and a 1G hard drive. Servers are Digital Equipment Corp. AlphaServers and Zenith Data
Systems systems with RAID storage subsystems. To boost server performance, Babcock wants
to cluster servers and use multiple processors with Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition.
Installing multiple products from a single vendor such as Microsoft makes documents more
transferrable and systems more interoperable, he said.
The National Guard Bureau at Andrews uses Ethernet because the cost per port for
asynchronous transfer mode to the desktop is too high, Babcock said. "We need to look
at what the customer needs" before making a commitment to ATM, he said.
The Air National Guard has 110,000 members; the Army National Guard has about 365,000.
Babcock primarily works with active-duty military personnel and civilians.
Babcock's MAN acts as the Net service provider for the Air and Army National Guard Web
sites, where Guard members gather data on funding, policy and other issues, he said.