Marines face challenge of moving older systems from Vines to NT

Maj. John R. Burnette remembers when the Marine Corps’ 10-year enterprise network
partnership with Banyan Systems Inc. started to come apart.

Burnette, who had backed Banyan Vines and StreetTalk messaging for more than a decade,
said an enterprising programmer in Okinawa wrote a routine that converted the
Marines’ StreetTalk global directory into an export file that worked fine under
Microsoft Exchange Server.

When he saw the Corps’ global lookup could survive a change of messaging
applications, Burnette said he became an Exchange convert.

The Corps’ pioneering partnership with Banyan of Westborough, Mass., lost its
momentum around 1996, said Burnette, who heads the Network Operating System and Messaging
Migration Branch of the Marines’ Network Operations Center at Quantico, Va.

Banyan federal sales manager Greg Edwards said the partnership has continued, but maybe
not as solidly as it had been.

Microsoft Windows NT Server and the global Defense Message System both arrived on the
networking scene in 1996.

“NT Server was like a tidal wave on the market, and not just for Banyan,”
Edwards said.

Before then, the Marines had been adding Vines and StreetTalk servers to their global
network at a rate of 200 or more each year.

In 1996, the Corps bought a Banyan enterprise license to maintain an unclassified
network of 2,200 Banyan servers through September 1999. There were heated discussions,
Burnette said, as the Corps tried to fit the Defense Department’s DMS requirements
into its strategies for Banyan networks.

Although Marine managers were still divided over how to proceed, the military
services’ commanders in chief (CINC) announced an across-the-board Microsoft Exchange
strategy for DMS compliance.

Burnette said the CINCs’ decision effectively ended the Corps’ internal
debate about DMS. Because the Marines must support the CINCs, it was best to totally
integrate through Exchange, Burnette said.

At the same time, Banyan executives seemed less than eager to undertake the rigorous
DMS product development and certification testing, he said.

“They saw there was going to be a relaxing of the specifications and requirements
for pure DMS on the desktop, which is what did happen,” Burnette said.

From that point, Marine Corps and Banyan officials began to view DMS differently, he
said. For its part, the Corps wanted one global network to satisfy all its e-mail and
messaging requirements.

The long-time Banyan proponent said he now thinks the migration to Microsoft NT Server
and Exchange Server messaging will bring improvements to the Corps’ network.

Server hardware readily available from the Marine Corps Common Hardware Suite contracts
is certified for Windows NT and Exchange Server, Burnette said, whereas Banyan-certified
servers and network components have become hard to find. And NT Server uses RAID storage
more efficiently than Vines can, he said.

Also, he said, the Outlook client for Exchange Server lets Marines copy their inboxes
and global directories onto tactical notebook computers, carry them to the field and
resynchronize with the network once they get an NT Remote Access Server dial-in or IP
connection. Burnette called that a tremendous capability.

“Our only way of doing this before was to drag a Banyan server with us,” he

A few weeks ago, Burnette’s technical team visited the Marine Forces Pacific
Command Headquarters to convert its systems to Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition and
Exchange Server 5.5.

In the process, they moved applications for 750 users from 18 Banyan servers onto five
Digital Equipment Corp. dual-processor 266-MHz Digital Server 5200 systems, each with 256M
of RAM, 45G of RAID Level 5 storage and a 100-Mbps Ethernet connection.

Burnette met with other Corps officials last week at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to present
proposals for migrating the remaining Corps servers to Exchange during the next year and a

But he expects conversion to become more and more difficult as the teams move from
headquarters sites out to where older desktop PCs cannot run the Corps-standard NOS and
messaging software.

“286es were just barely able to connect to a Vines network,” Burnette said.
The current release of Banyan Vines still supports MS-DOS and Windows 3.x desktop PCs.

A Zenith Data Systems Z-248 that Burnette bought in 1987 to run a word processor,
spreadsheet and Flight Simulator “is still running for me,” he said. It is one
of several thousand Z-248s that the Corps still uses.

Until the oldest PCs are replaced, some units will have to maintain their older Vines
servers to run critical 16-bit Oracle Corp. database applications, Burnette said.

The Corps also must deal with a large inventory of 286 and 386 PCs that are not year
2000-ready. Burnette said tests are under way to determine whether Banyan’s year
2000-ready Vines 8.5 will support noncompliant 286 PCs to the extent that users would
still receive e-mail.

A concurrent project is under way to install National Security Agency-approved
firewalls on DOD’s Non-Classified IP Router Network connections across the Marine
Corps Global Network. That will require changes to all the routing tables. The project is
running well ahead of the NOS migration, Burnette said.

Part of the global network traffic also travels over DOD’s Secure IP Router

Burnette likes the idea of stepping back from the bleeding edge. “Nobody had a
bigger Vines network than the Marine Corps,” he said, a fact that always made him
nervous. The Corps has 62,000 users, but the world’s largest Exchange Server network
connects 250,000 Boeing Co. users, he said.

“It used to take us almost a year to test every major revision, he said.”

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