Marines swap faulty servers

Despite server glitches that delayed some installations by as much as six months,
Marine Corps officials expect to complete a migration to Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and
Exchange messaging by year’s end.


The Corps last year bought about 400 Digital Equipment Corp. Digital Server 5200 models
for the transition, through Digital’s Navy Tactical Advanced Computer blanket
purchasing agreement. The $4 million the Corps paid represented bargain basement prices,
said a Marine Corps Systems Command official at Quantico, Va.


Defects soon appeared in some servers, including hot-swap failures of RAID Level 5 hard
drives and internal conflicts in flash memory settings, the official said. The Corps
decided to send back the whole group of servers to Compaq  Computer Corp., which
acquired Digital last year.


“We’ve never had this level of problems before,” the Corps official
said. “What [Compaq] did in the end was very forthright. Industry needs for us to
hold them accountable.”


After two months of negotiation, including shuttling photographs and laboratory test
results between the Corps and Compaq, the company agreed to supply 268 Compaq ProLiant
1600 servers and 40 ProLiant 3000 servers for about $2 million more than the Marines had
paid for the Digital servers, the Quantico official said.


The delay rippled through the service and stalled some of the NT deployments, said Col.
Mike Cooper, the Marines’ deputy chief information officer.


“We’re on a tight plan scheduled around people’s availability” for
maintaining 75,000 PCs and workstations and 3,000 servers, Cooper said. “It was
resolved, and there’s no acrimony” with the vendor.


Although the Marines appear to hold no ill will toward Compaq, company officials
threatened to pull out of their agreement to replace the Digital servers, the Quantico
official said. In mid-April, however, Compaq began shipping scores of servers.


Compaq officials refused to comment.


The Marines are about nine months into their migration from Vines 8.5 and StreetTalk
8.5 messaging, from Banyan Systems Inc. of Westborough, Mass., to NT Server 4.0 Exchange
Enterprise Edition 5.5 and Outlook 97 and 98.


After the first pilot last spring, Marine officials in August received approval and
funding to complete the project, said Maj. John R. Burnette, head of the NT migration
project at the Network Operations Center at Quantico.


“From what I can tell in conversations with units and in messaging traffic, there
have been some horrible problems,” including some at Marine Corps Base Camp
Pendleton, Calif., said Capt. Bob Hendricks, assistant data systems officer for the 1st
Marine Expeditionary Force there. “When they powered machines down, they
wouldn’t come [back] up.”


Camp Pendleton and other sites had problems with network interface cards and getting
the servers to recognize RAID arrays, Hendricks said.


Citing contract-sensitive information, Burnette refused to comment about the reported
problems with the Digital servers. The service is also installing Hewlett-Packard Co.
servers, he said.


“I wouldn’t say there have been [more problems] than on any large
deployment,” Burnette said. As of mid-March, the Marines had installed 31,100
Exchange accounts at headquarters, in the Atlantic and Pacific Marine forces, and at major
subordinate commands. 


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