Will ODIN give the Macs at NASA another nudge?

As NASA officials gear up for the first orders under the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative
for NASA program, they acknowledge they are sending a somewhat mixed message about the
future of Apple Macintoshes at the space agency.

“We ultimately don’t know the outcome” regarding long-term support for
Mac users, said Don Andreotta, NASA’s deputy chief information officer for
operations. Business decisions by ODIN contractors will determine the outcome, he said.

NASA scientists have a strong allegiance to Macs and Unix workstations, Andreotta said.
He cited Mac users at the Ames, Langley and Lewis research centers, Goddard Space Flight
Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as graphics artists and earth and space
scientists at NASA headquarters.

So far, ODIN’s seven prime vendors have not pushed Mac users to PCs, said Mark
Hagerty, ODIN program manager. “Customers can select the platforms they want and the
service they require,” he said.

Andreotta said a NASA survey two years ago showed that the agency had about 70,000
desktop computers, including those owned by contractors, and about 25 percent were Macs.
The total number of computers and the number of Macs have both probably dropped since
then, he said.

Although NASA officials would prefer to maintain a heterogeneous environment of Mac,
Unix and Microsoft Windows platforms, the burden will be on the vendors to offer
competitive pricing and Mac support, Andreotta said.

Both he and Hagerty emphasized that NASA has no plan to standardize on one platform and
exclude others, an issue that sparked a minor skirmish within the agency a little more
than a year ago.

“There is no intent anywhere in the contract to steer the agency to a single
platform,” Hagerty said. “We have the capability to procure Apple and Unix at
the same levels and with the same services” as PCs, he said.

If a NASA center “made a decision to go with a uniform platform, we would want to
review that to make sure it doesn’t conflict with agency policy,” Andreotta
said. He added that some sites, such as Johnson Space Center, likely will rely on ODIN
more heavily than others such as Goddard.

The ODIN contracts will run for nine years, and desktop outsourcing will probably
become more prevalent in the latter years as center directors become more comfortable with
it, he said.

NASA officials do not seem eager to repeat the battles with Mac users that occurred in
1996 and 1997 when John Garman, the Johnson center’s CIO, tried to standardize on an
all-PC platform.

Garman said then that it costs more to support Mac computers than those running
Microsoft Windows. In reviewing data about support costs, however, NASA officials have
found them “conclusively inconclusive,” Andreotta said.

Goddard plans to award an ODIN task order by early November. Johnson, Kennedy Space
Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center will award their task orders
as a group by the end of the year, Hagerty said.

Jet Propulsion Lab officials have tried to maintain a hybrid approach, allowing their
desktop outsourcing vendor, OAO Corp. of Greenbelt, Md., to maintain three recommended
configurations of PCs and Macs, said Richard Green, deputy director for institutional
computing and information services at JPL in Pasadena, Calif.

“We wanted more standardization than we had before,” while allowing some
choice and customization for JPL’s engineers, secretaries, scientists and spacecraft
designers, Green said. JPL has about 5,000 PC users and 3,000 Mac users, he said.

High on Apple Computer Inc.’s list of concerns at NASA are help desk support,
leasing and product supply issues, said Barry Bittner, federal sales manager at


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