USS McFaul finds IT balance

USS McFaul finds IT balance

Navy deals with ship's need for security and bandwidth and crew's Web demands

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

NORFOLK, Va.'Navy officials aboard a newly commissioned guided missile destroyer have balanced the ship's security and bandwidth needs with sailors' needs to communicate with the outside world while on deployment.


Petty Officer Joseph Faretra, from left, Petty Officer James Meeker and Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Fowler set the ground rules for sailors' shipboard e-mail and Web privileges.


When Navy officials commissioned the USS McFaul two years ago, it was one of the first guided missile destroyers with asynchronous transfer mode switches, fiber backbones and Microsoft Windows NT 4.0.

On the McFaul's maiden deployment last year, the 300-member crew had to assist other destroyers and frigates in its destroyer squadron and in the USS John F. Kennedy battle group with network problems.

The other ships had received their ATM switches and upgraded equipment under the Information Technology for the 21st Century program just before the deployment, said Chief Warrant Officer Stephen Fowler, the McFaul's combat information center officer.

Helping hand

'It was all new. The [other] ships were trying to figure out how the McFaul manages the problems,' said Petty Officer Joseph V. Faretra, the ship's LAN administrator. 'They had a steep learning curve.'

The McFaul, a vessel of the Atlantic Fleet, has been docked in Norfolk since returning from a Mediterranean deployment in March.

Setting up accounts and workgroups under Microsoft Exchange was a challenge for the JFK battle group, Faretra said.

'It's much better to give knowledge than to ask for it,' Fowler said. 'We could feel their pain.'

With more than 500,000 e-mail messages coming in or going out during the deployment, McFaul commanders set a 500K limit on e-mail attachments. They allowed unlimited Web browsing to dot-gov and dot-mil sites but limited sailors to approved commercial sites, Fowler said.

Through International Maritime Consortium satellite linkup on deployments, the ship has 32-Kbps connectivity, while in port it connects with a T1 line, he said.

'It has been hard to be steadfast and say, 'no' ' to requests to approve more sites, Faretra said. 'I've had many requests, from officers, as well as enlisted sailors.'

Before docking in Toulouse, France, in late December, officials approved a Web site with train schedules, and they let sailors access a flower delivery Web site, he said.

'It was a balance between the command's needs and the crew's needs,' Fowler said of the site selections.

The ship has about 130 PCs with four servers, with a mixture of PCs from Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., Dell Computer Corp., Panasonic Personal Computer Corp. of Secaucus, N.J., and ProStar Computer Inc. of City of Industry, Calif., Fowler said.

Digital reconaissance

Working with Navy network operations centers in Hampton Roads, Va., and Italy, the McFaul protected its IP address from Web hackers, Fowler said. Through proxy technology, the return IP address from the McFaul shows the operations center's address, he said.

Fowler and his crew occasionally make visits to hacker Web sites to learn more about their adversaries, while protecting their own identities.

'You have to know your enemy,' he said.

A sailor with 24 years of Navy service, Fowler has had to deal with post-deployment retention issues. One of his two systems administrators recently left the service to work for a Washington-area systems integrator, he said. Other sailors are close to retirement.

'I've really had to do some soul-searching,' said Petty Officer James Meeker, who also serves as a part-time webmaster. He recently turned down a civilian job offer that would have doubled his pay after 15 years in the service. For Meeker, the Navy is the place to be.

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