Network centers provide lifeblood for Navy's NMCI

Network centers provide lifeblood for Navy's NMCI

BY DAWN S. ONLEY | GCN STAFF

NORFOLK, Va.'On the sixth floor of the Navy Fleet Industrial Support Center, the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet is taking form.

Huge plasma monitors are mounted from the ceiling in the Help Desk room listing an agent's name, the time a call comes in and the longest time any caller has been waiting.

Down the hall, workers sit at PCs and handle the tougher unclassified system inquiries. They can diagnose system problems, provide engineering and technical support, and use monitoring software to observe systems. Behind them, in a tinted-glass-enclosed room, a few contract employees monitor highly sensitive systems.

This is the work of the Norfolk Network Operations Center, one of six centers being built by the NMCI Information Strike Force, a partnership of companies led by Electronic Data Systems Corp. to support the $6.9 billion Navy program.

By month's end, the center will be fully online and able to communicate with the San Diego Network Operations Center, which the EDS strike force is also building.


Employees at the Norfolk Network Operations Center, left, take care of problems. A technician, right, inside one of the center's data rooms repairs the wiring on a piece of equipment.
'We are the group that provides the infrastructure support behind all of the networks,' said Dan Proctor, director of the Norfolk center and a retired Navy officer. 'This thing has such an ability to improve the quality of information to the warfighter in the field.

'I don't think there's anything that will have a bigger impact on the way we do business in the military than this particular project.'

In addition to EDS, the strike force includes Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., Dell Computer Corp., Microsoft Corp., Raytheon Co. and WorldCom Inc. Proctor said 73 percent of the work so far has been done by small businesses.

The remaining four network operations centers will be built in the next two years
in Jacksonville, Fla.; Oahu, Hawaii; Puget Sound, Wash.; and Quantico, Va.

The Norfolk Help Desk came online last Wednesday. It will handle calls from states east of the Mississippi. The San Diego Help Desk will handle calls from west of the Mississippi, said Annette Rogers, the Norfolk Help Desk manager.

Calls from sailors and Marines stationed abroad initially will be routed to both centers' help desks. Last Wednesday, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command awarded a $102 million contract to a division of General Dynamics Corp. for infrastructure improvements at bases in the Far East, Europe and Bahrain to provide access to NMCI.

Back in the Norfolk center, John Hamlette, a center supervisor, described some of the work his staff does. For instance, when a caller has a problem, system engineers can use software to 'look down into that desktop to determine what is wrong with the system.'

Nearby, workers in the Help Desk room are closely monitored while they answer the phones. 'With NMCI, we are measured by our compliance,' said Scott Huff, a Help Desk supervisor.

Standards to meet

The contract spells out 37 service-level standards that must be met. EDS gets paid depending on whether the work meets Navy and Marine Corps expectations.

The EDS strike force has been testing both NMCI hardware and software. But make-or-break tests will soon begin at the teams at the Norfolk and San Diego centers. Navy brass will conduct a series of joint operational tests and evaluations, which will take a few months, to decide on NMCI's further deployment.

Also, a military task force will monitor the quality of support the center gives sailors and Marines, Proctor said.

NMCI, one of the largest government systems outsourcing initiatives, will consolidate 200 networks into a massive intranet linking more than 360,000 desktop PCs.

In essence, NMCI is a managed service for voice, video and data information exchange by Navy users on shore.

Another high-profile program, Information Technology for the 21st Century (IT-21), will coordinate with NMCI and bring intranet connectivity pierside for Navy vessels in port, said Vice Adm. Richard Mayo, the Navy's chief information officer.

'We are well down the road to getting good high-speed secure networks to battlefield ships,' Mayo said. 'With NMCI, we're bringing that same kind of secure network environment to our shore stations in the continental U.S.'

IT-21 is intended to link all U.S. forces and perhaps even allies in a network that supports voice, video and data transmissions from a single PC. The Navy's Pacific and Atlantic fleets selected Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 as the standard operating system for IT-21.

Buy into IT

With NMCI, the Navy and Marine Corps will buy IT service as if it were a utility . EDS will provide technology upgrades, hardware and software, technical support, e-mail service, training and security services in its per-seat charge, which averages $3,412 per year.

The support of the seats lies with the network operations centers, where workers dole out help that ranges from providing basic how-to tips to resolving complex installation problems. By summer the Norfolk center, which is run by the strike force contractors, will start to see a rotation of Navy and Marine Corps staff. The sailors and Marines will receive training and certifications that they can use on follow-up tours, said Joseph Cipriano, the service's program executive manager for NMCI.

The Norfolk center has two server farms filled with equipment, redundant software and multiple backup power lines. In case of a major disaster, two generators can provide eight days of power.

A service edge

'This provides a tremendous advantage to the service user,' Proctor said. 'Reliability has gone up substantially.' The data room reads and stores 2.48G per second, he said.

Last month, EDS assumed responsibility for roughly 40,000 seats at 29 sites. By next month, the Navy and EDS are expected to approve a plan to give 30,000 reservists remote access to the intranet from their home computers or from PCs at local libraries. Security officials have already approved four options but will settle on one plan, Cipriano said.

Although this is the first seat management contract of its breadth for the government, EDS currently manages more than 2 million seats under commercial and federal contracts, said George Sibley, EDS' deputy program manager for NMCI.

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