GAO tastes agencies' pain as it upgrades its PC net

The General Accounting Office, which hunts down systems inadequacies
governmentwide as Congress’ junkyard dog, found out last year how painful a minor
systems upgrade can be when it replaced its own aging PC network.


“We had our pain period,” said Tony Cicco, director of infrastructure
operations in GAO’s Office of Information Management and Communications, describing
the three-month cutover that took place between October and December.


Users endured crashes and slowdowns while GAO installed 3,525 PCs and 50 servers from
the Compaq Deskpro and ProLiant lines. During the transition, the agency ran two network
operating systems simultaneously—both the older Microsoft Windows 3.1 and the new OS,
Windows 95. The agency is leasing the equipment from Intelligent Decisions Inc. of
Chantilly, Va., under a trio of contracts worth $2.4 million jointly.


To make matters worse, David M. Walker, GAO’s new comptroller general, came aboard
as the agency’s systems team began the modernization. Cicco said the antiquated
computers and unstable network were a shock to the former Andersen Consulting executive,
who was accustomed to newer technologies from his days with the Chicago consulting firm.


“When he saw the old computers and experienced the network instability in early
October, he made it a top priority of his to get the agency through this transition,”
Cicco said.


The agency’s systems office also got an earful from GAO’s 3,300 users. They
complained about the glitches and had trouble adjusting to the new hardware and software,
he said.


“These are people who are trained at being highly analytical and critical,”
Cicco said.


Tracy Porter, a senior auditor at headquarters, said, “It was definitely a little
frustrating.” But she said she also understood the pressure on the systems group,
which “undertook a massive change in a short time.” Porter, who audits the
Defense Department, said Cicco’s team members were “as responsive as they could
have been.”


Since 1992, GAO had supported a mish-mash of antiquated PCs running Microsoft Windows
3.1 and linked on networks running Novell NetWare 3.11. On its older systems, GAO used
WordPerfect for its word processor, Corel Quattro Pro as the spreadsheet application and
Lotus Freelance for presentation graphics.


To prepare for the upgrade, the information technology shop in late 1995 had 150 users
evaluate hardware and software products as they worked on reports for Congress. The
result: The majority of users preferred Microsoft Office, citing the suite’s
interoperability, Cicco said.


But following the product review period, GAO had no money for the upgrade, so
Cicco’s team put the project on hold. For fiscal 1998, GAO got the funding, and the
agency last spring issued a request for proposals.


Last summer, GAO awarded three contracts to Intelligent Decisions. The initial contract
was for a pilot, followed by a lease of the servers and finally a contract to lease the
PCs.


GAO in September finished the pilot at its headquarters’ General Government
Division. The vendor installed 650 233-MHz Compaq Deskpros with 64M of RAM, 4G hard drives
and 17-inch Studioworks monitors from LG Electronics Inc.


During the second phase, Intelligent Decisions delivered the 50 dual-processor 200-MHz
Compaq ProLiant 6500s running NetWare 4.11.


Under the final contract, GAO deployed 2,875 PCs at 16 regional and local offices. The
offices got 333-MHz Compaq Deskpro ENs with 64M of RAM, 6G hard drives and 17-inch Compaq
monitors.


GAO did not replace all its old PCs during the upgrade, however.


It kept 500 486s for standalone use and for employees with low-end requirements, Cicco
said.


Systems failures are fewer now that users are comfortable with the new PCs and now that
GAO has completely phased out Windows 3.1, Cicco said. Each user received training via
CD-ROMs to make the transition less painful, he said.

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