It's semper fidelis to e-personnel apps

It's semper fidelis to e-personnel apps

BY PATRICIA DAUKANTAS | GCN STAFF

The Marine Corps personnel staff has two missions: Cut down paper use, and speed up the review of thousands of candidates for promotion.

Working toward the first goal, the Personnel Management Support Branch has consolidated all its data into one high-end storage system, expandable to 7T.

To pull off the second, the branch has built five so-called digital boardrooms, where senior officers can review electronic personnel records and vote on promotions without shuffling a single sheet of paper.

The personnel branch, part of the Personnel Management Division located at Corps headquarters in Quantico, Va., handles assignments, separations, retirements and promotions for officers and enlisted Marines.


The Corps' William G. Swarens explains the features of Quantico's digital boardrooms.
Until 1980, all personnel records were on paper, branch head William G. Swarens said. The retired Marine colonel has a 2-inch-thick paper personnel file from his days as a helicopter pilot.

From 1980 to 1996, microfiche became the storage medium. In 1997, the branch began converting its microfiche to an optical storage system, then moved to magnetic disk.

RAIDing the stash

The records first were stashed on multiple RAID systems, but early this year the Corps consolidated them on an EMC Symmetrix 3930 from EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, Mass.

The 400,000 personnel files on the Symmetrix 3930 subsystem take up about 1.7T, but the Symmetrix could hold up to 7T if the Marines choose to swap out the 36G drives for 50G drives, Swarens said.

Weekly backups go to an EMC Data Manager unit with a 12-drive ATL P3000 tape library from Quantum/ATL Products Inc. of Irvine, Calif. The library holds 224 70G tapes.

Fibre Channel connections link the branch's two dual-processor Sun Microsystems UltraEnterprise 4000 servers to the Symmetrix unit and the tape library. Weekly storage backup time has dropped from 50 hours to 12 hours, said Craig Fortier, head of the personnel branch's Systems Support Section.

Before getting to the storage system, however, plenty of paper still must be digitized. For each of the 40,000 new Marines who start service each year, the Corps processes 29 pieces of paper, Swarens said.

Military personnel files include annual fitness reports; records on awards, civilian education and disciplinary actions; and service contract information, said Maj. Katrina Hensley, head of the personnel branch's Records Management Section.

Jerry Belknap, head of the branch's fitness report processing, said the unit receives about 1,000 fitness reports per day'each at least five pages long.

A half-dozen Marines scan the documents using Ricoh Aficio 450 scanners from Ricoh Corp. of West Caldwell, N.J., connected to Compaq Deskpro PCs running Microsoft Windows NT. After optical character recognition, the scanned data fields are proofread before loading into the EMC system.

Throughout the year, panels of officers gather at Quantico to decide promotions for Marines at the rank of staff sergeant or higher.

Just before each of the 55 boards meets, the files of the Marines under consideration are copied onto the staging server, a two-way 500-MHz Compaq ProLiant 5500 with 500M of RAM and 240G of storage configured at RAID Level 5.

Once the files go to a ProLiant server in each of the five boardrooms, the rooms are cut off from the rest of the Quantico network.

Inside Boardroom E, for example, panel members sit at 10 comfortable chairs in front of Dell OptiPlex GX115 PCs. The four other boardrooms have 18 to 23 seats each.

The 21-inch Dell Trinitron monitors are outfitted with polarizing security screens from 3M Co. to protect voting secrecy, Hensley said.

The digital boardrooms show all panelists the same individual's records simultaneously. Marine programmers built the viewing software with the PowerBuilder application development tool from Sybase Inc. and the Lead Tools developer toolkit from Lead Technologies Inc. of Charlotte, N.C.

After the panelists have reviewed a candidate for promotion, they click on yes or no buttons to vote the candidate up or down, Hensley said.

Serving on the boards used to take officers away from their jobs for several weeks, she said, and was 'a big drain on manpower.'

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