DOD office gets grip on its IT

DOD office gets grip on its IT

Contract management agency uses CA's Unicenter to oversee operations

Drew Robb

Special to GCN

The Defense Department's principal contract management organization is implementing Unicenter TNG from Computer Associates International Inc. to monitor and maintain information technology management processes, resources and events internationally.

The Defense Contract Management Agency initiated the deployment to reduce IT costs, maintain quality and ensure continuity of service for Defense contracting operations, as well as provide centralized enterprise management.

With a staff of 13,000, DCMA is responsible for monitoring about $90 billion in Defense contracts each year. The agency is essential to the entire acquisition process, from pre-award to contract closeout, and delivers everything from shoelaces to jet engines. DCMA headquarters is at Fort Belvoir, Va., but its complex international IT infrastructure is managed from its western office in Carson, Calif.

Many responsibilities

DCMA is organized into three districts, 70 contract administration offices and 900 operating locations worldwide, managing 23,000 contractors and 350,000 contracts a year. Its IT environment comprises hundreds of servers running Microsoft Windows NT, Novell NetWare and Unix; 12,000 desktop systems; a variety of databases including Oracle, Sybase and Microsoft SQL; as well as programs such as Microsoft Office and Netscape Communicator; and dozens of proprietary government applications.

'Due to downsizing, we needed a toolbox of solutions to enable us to accomplish more with less personnel,' said John Van Dinther, director of IT for the western district.

'Unicenter and its various modules give us centralized management of our networks and an ability to pinpoint problems, even before they affect our users,' he said.

For example, when DCMA's Denver office lost its air conditioning at 11 p.m. recently, a computer alerted a technician, which prevented equipment damage and data loss, Van Dinther said.

'The Denver example would have resulted in downtime if we hadn't caught it early,' he said. 'True enterprise management has taken us out of reactively going from situation to situation and has allowed us to be more proactive.'

Local and remote

DCMA began installing the software in March. By August, the enterprise management software had been deployed on 98 percent of the desktop PCs connected to the LAN. The next phase deployed the system to more than 2,000 remote users. DCMA and Computer Associates personnel are also installing several other modules.

The Software Delivery Option and Asset Management Option, for example, were deployed simultaneously. First, SDO and the basic Unicenter software were delivered via CD-ROM. That software automatically downloaded AMO. The SDO and AMO deployment was completed last month for all 13,000 DCMA users.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Dan Howery checks a notebook computer used to monitor jet engines in a testing facility at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. The engines power the F-16CJs assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing. Tests after major maintenance ensure mechanical function at various operating temperatures and stresses. Howery is a member of the 20th Component Repair Squadron's Propulsion Shop.

Prior to initiating global enterprise management, software distribution involved about 150 people from the IT department, as well as local LAN administrators working hands-on. 'The same job can now be accomplished centrally with three people in a matter of minutes,' Van Dinther said.

Last year, for example, DCMA management wanted a count of PCs with processors slower than 200 MHz during its upgrade of one-third of its desktop PCs, required each year. It took the IT department six weeks to unearth the figures, which could not be validated except by another manual count. With the new system, that task can be accomplished in three to four minutes, he said.

The initial implementation of Unicenter will also include several other modules, such as Business Process View, Event/Performance Management, Exchange Agent, Real World Interface and Remote Control Option (RCO).

Real World, for example, lets DCMA IT managers view the entire enterprise or focus on individual problems. It graphically locates each problem and its severity. IT personnel can click on a hub, for instance, and narrow down to a city, a router and a server.

With another few clicks, the staff person can look at the back of a specific piece of equipment and its connections, a boon to the help desk.

If a user has a problem, a technician can pinpoint a problem and often solve it remotely. Alternatively, if the help desk is working with a LAN administrator, the person can point out the component and help the systems administrator spot the trouble.

'Some things we can solve right here, whereas with other bugs we can at least help the administrators handle the problem,' Van Dinther said.

Over the threshold

After deploying the enterprise management software, DCMA discovered the need for new policies.

Real World, for example, detected 10,000 e-mail messages in a queue at Fort Belvoir. '

That prompted the installation of Exchange Agent to alert IT workers when certain thresholds are exceeded. DCMA expected to complete Real World deployment this fall.

The hardest part of the software installation was configuring it to the agency's needs, Van Dinther said.

The time spent was worthwhile, however, as it makes adding new equipment practically automatic. With RCO, instead of manually configuring each computer, a process that could take hours, DCMA's new hardware, no matter where, can be set up remotely.

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