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Anchors Aweigh on Servicewide Intranet

December 2001
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Situation well in hand for industry, U.S. Navy partnership.

Despite a delayed launch, the first year of the maiden voyage of a different approach to military acquisition of information technology products and services has been mostly smooth sailing. The Navy/Marine Corps Intranet is well underway, and key leaders from both industry and the U.S. Defense Department say they are pleased with the progress that has been made so far.

Today, a little more than a year after the contract was awarded, two network operations centers, two help desks and 17 server farms have been opened and staffed. In addition, a common hardware and software solution that will reside on all user desktops and laptops has been engineered. The Information Strike Force (ISF) has assumed responsibility for more than 42,000 seats at 29 sites without disruption of service. A process has been established for certifying that legacy applications work on the new Windows 2000 platform and meet new and more rigorous security requirements. More than 40 government workers affected by the program have been transitioned into the ISF work force. And in September, the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) transitioned from concept to reality as the first users were brought online at the Naval Air Facility, a Navy tenant activity at Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, D.C. It is the beginning of what is touted as being the world’s largest intranet serving more than 400,000 sailors and Marines.

According to Capt. I. Chris Christopher, USN, Navy director of NMCI services, Arlington, Virginia, although the program has faced some unexpected challenges, the evaluation of NMCI so far is very positive and has rendered unexpected benefits.

“The process in terms of implementation is letting us do something that has never been done before in our organization. We’re getting our arms around our whole information technology infrastructure,” explains the captain, who is also the deputy program executive officer for the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Information Technology.

The contract for the project was awarded to the ISF, an industry team led by Electronic Data Systems (EDS) Corporation, Herndon, Virginia. At $6.9 billion, it was the largest federal information technology contract awarded to date (SIGNAL, December 2000, page 37). The objective of the new approach was to get the government out of the information technology business by turning over the responsibility, under close supervision, to companies that specialize in that arena. The benefits of this method include freeing up military personnel to focus on their core mission, standardizing systems to enhance interoperability and security, and ensuring deployment of the latest technology while reducing overall costs.

The first step to implementing NMCI is evaluating the current status of equipment and applications. While year 2000 (Y2K) assessments identified the enormous scope of the Navy’s information systems, the goal of the preparation was limited to mission-essential and mission-critical systems. The incremental approach to adopting the NMCI allows for a much more in-depth evaluation.

“For Y2K, all we did was lift the rock and kill the first few bugs under there. Now, we’ve lifted the rock and taken a look at everything under there, and it was not a pretty picture. Coming to grips with that has really been a big step for us,” Capt. Christopher relates.

One of the most crucial challenges that must be addressed is information security. For example, successful intrusions on Navy computer systems increased from 89 in 2000 to 125 in the first half of 2001. The NMCI consolidates 200 Navy and Marine Corps computer systems, reducing the number of entryways into the system. It also will feature security operations cells located within each of the system’s six network operations centers in San Diego; Quantico and Norfolk, Virginia; Jacksonville, Florida; Oahu, Hawaii; and Puget Sound, Washington.

Capt. Christopher explains that there is a reason for the ISF to go beyond simple protection. “We assume they will meet the service-level agreements [SLAs] for information security. But there are incentives to be proactive. In the event of an attack, they could just turn off the network. That solves the problem, but it’s not feasible. So we are asking them to find, stop or isolate the attack and report it to the appropriate authority,” he says.

Incentives are in the form of bonuses and are available for surpassing other requirements as well. For example, the original request for proposals stipulated that 35 percent of the winning team must consist of small businesses. The ISF’s proposal appropriated 40 percent of the contract award to small businesses, and today small businesses account for nearly 80 percent of the team, Capt. Christopher relates.

The ISF also has a stake in finding less costly solutions as long as effectiveness and efficiency are not compromised. Any cost savings are shared equally between the team and the Navy.

Despite the apparent success of the NMCI program to date, Capt. Christopher admits that there have been some lessons learned. “Understanding and being prepared do not make it easy. You may know that Mount Everest is large and is going to be hard to climb, but the full impact doesn’t hit you until you get to the base camp. We had to adjust internally what NMCI and information technology do for us. Once we get there, we’ll accomplish what other large organizations did when they went to enterprise-level management,” he relates.

The Navy’s leadership is concerned about more than just the technical success of the NMCI; it also is mindful of customer satisfaction. Change management from a personnel standpoint has been one of the biggest challenges in the implementation, Capt. Christopher maintains. “The NMCI is a new way of doing business. It is more than just putting upgraded equipment on someone’s desk. There is a level of service that is expected,” he says.

From a technical standpoint, the ISF does not receive full payment for a seat until the system is up and running and has met the SLAs for 30 days after installation. In addition, Navy personnel will be surveyed annually to ensure that they are satisfied with service and support. The ISF is eligible for an incentive bonus as a result of favorable responses.

Rick Rosenburg, EDS NMCI program executive, agrees that change management has been the biggest challenge to date. Because this is a drastically different way of doing business and involves such a large customer base, the Navy and the ISF have made a concerted effort to explain to personnel how the NMCI contract works, he explains. Commands are accustomed to designing and deploying systems that serve their individual needs, so there is some resistance to a uniform program being implemented at every site. However, the feedback has been mixed. “The reactions vary. I call it the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ The have-nots are the commands that have outdated equipment. They have welcomed us because we brought them up to the level of technology that they’ve always wanted. For those groups that had their own system, they are very proud of what they’ve done and had tremendous environments, so there is a little more resistance. But 200 environments trying to work as a whole didn’t work very well. When people start thinking of it as an environment, they see the benefit.

“I’m not getting the hate mail I used to get. In the first four or five months of the program, the hate mail filled my box. But we got the information out through briefings, lessons-learned conferences and the Web site, and things have calmed down,” Rosenburg remarks.

Capt. Christopher and Rosenburg agree that the initial rollout was not all smooth sailing. First, the announcement of the contract award was delayed from May to October 2000 because Congress required more information about the NMCI before it would approve funding. As a result, the four teams vying for the contract were in a holding pattern until the Navy provided Congress with a report that included details of the program.

“The plan that made sense in May didn’t make sense in October,” Capt. Christopher relates. Consequently, the ramp-up time took longer than expected, and the NMCI did not begin in earnest until December 2000.

Scheduled implementation hit another snag as the Navy prepared for introduction of the NMCI. To meet the information security requirements, all of the applications in use had to be identified. “We didn’t understand until January that we didn’t have a buffalo; we had this elephant on our hands. This summer we got this enormous challenge, and it’s not an NMCI problem; it’s a Department of the Navy problem. So the scope of the problem was different, and the notional schedule of where we would be was utterly invalid. Now, we understand the problem,” the captain admits.

Legacy applications still concern Capt. Christopher, but he points out that a solution exists. “If there’s one thing we have learned it’s that we have to start early on this issue because it affects the rollout,” he says. It is particularly critical to address this challenge because information security is at stake. The information assurance benefits the NMCI offers are crucial, particularly in homeland security, he adds.

Although the goals of the project have not changed, the processes have. Rosenburg explains that initially all participants put their ideas together, identified which ones would not work, then developed a solution that everyone could agree to and that would accomplish the goals. For example, the amount of work prior to ISF assumption of responsibility, which is when the team arrives at the site and takes charge of the systems, needed to be increased, Rosenburg offers. “The process has changed to streamline it about three or four times since the beginning. But there is a positive relationship between us and the Navy, so we work toward win-win solutions,” he says.

The high quality of the relationship somewhat surprised Rosenburg. “You always hear that there can never truly be a partnership between the public and private sector. I’m here to say that is not true. We are working together to meet the needs of both parties. We have very clearly defined what we want to accomplish. We sit down and talk about what each side needs out of the solution and how we can meet those needs. It really boils down to trust. The Department of the Navy feels that we are working with its interest in mind and are not going to take advantage of that,” he reveals.

Although the relationship between the Navy and the ISF is built on trust, that does not preclude testing. Congress required that incremental testing take place so that the Navy was sure of what it was getting. “The question was, ‘Should this overall system be tested as a commercial system or as a weapons system?’ We reached a compromise that leans more toward the commercial approach. We will do the testing, but an independent organization, the Institute for Defense Analyses, will oversee it to be sure the testing is rigorous enough and the results are statistically valid,” Rosenburg explains.

The delayed schedule affected the testing and follow-on rollout schedule. Capt. Christopher explains that the operational test that the Defense Department thought was important could not be conducted until after fiscal year 2002 began. Under the revised testing schedule, the rollout will continue, and incremental testing will take place. After successfully completing testing at three sites and reviewing the results, the Department of the Navy will be cleared to order another 100,000 seats. This could occur as early as this month. After 20,000 seats have been cut over to the NMCI environment and are meeting the SLAs, another 150,000 can be ordered. This is expected to occur next spring.

Full operational testing and evaluation of the naval aviation community’s systems will take place next summer. Upon passing these tests, the Department of the Navy will order the seats for fiscal year 2003. According to Rosenburg, the NMCI should have the rollout complete by 2003, which was the original scheduled completion date. When 85 percent of the NMCI is online, the department will conduct stress tests on the full system. Completion of this test is the threshold for deciding to exercise the three option years on the contract.

Capt. Christopher emphasizes that the hardware and software the NMCI brings to the Navy do not constitute the critical benefit of the program. “The NMCI is vitally important to the Department of the Navy, but the network is not the most important issue. All the things that we are going to do on it are what are important. It is the road, but what is crucial is what will run on that road,” he says. Specifically, the captain points to the ability to look at issues from an organizational standpoint. The Navy will be able to increase its efficiency and build databases that are comparable to corporate databases so all the information can be seen across the enterprise. “The information we are giving to the decision makers is going to be more reliable, and they can make better decisions across the board. We can take action quicker on what we know about an adversary. And, of course, the security piece is very important,” he says.

Rosenburg relates another benefit of the NMCI. “The Department of the Navy is going to be able to see how much it spends on information technology and support very quickly,” he adds.

Additional information on the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.eds.com/nmci.

 

Putting the Pentagon Pieces Together Again

At no time was the value of the revolutionary acquisition and service approach the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) represents more evident than after the terrorist attack at the Pentagon. The destruction the attack left in its wake could have been even more devastating had the Information Strike Force (ISF) been unable to react as quickly as it did, Capt. I. Chris Christopher, USN, Navy director of NMCI services, points out.

“The Information Strike Force went above and beyond the call of duty,” he declares. “Within 20 hours, the senior management in the Navy was back and operating. The Navy functional command was up within days.”

Having lost almost 70 percent of its Pentagon space, the Navy located and moved displaced staff to various office locations within the region. After receiving a preliminary order from the Navy on the evening of September 12, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) Corporation ISF team leader sent out a regional call to all partners for available cablers, network engineers and set-up specialists to aid in the Navy’s information technology recovery efforts.

The most mission-critical tasks to be conquered were the reconstruction of the Navy Communication Center (NCC) and the Navy Budget Office, which were completely destroyed. Initial damage assessments also required the construction of its classified and unclassified networks in temporary office space throughout the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

On the morning of September 13, nine 18-wheelers filled with 860 portable and 355 desktop computers and enough category-5 cabling to outfit five floors of office space rolled out of EDS’s staging facility in St. Louis. A separate truck also left Cisco the same day with all of the routers and switches necessary for the completion of the outfitting.

“The next day, all of the equipment that had left St. Louis arrived at the Navy’s NMCI warehousing facility at the Naval Air Facility, Washington, and the tear-down began,” Capt. Christopher relates. “The shipment of Dell computers was furnished on an emergency basis. With approximately 1,000 machines needing to be installed over the weekend, the ISF team knew they had their work cut out for them because there was no time for the preloaded NMCI software package to be uploaded to the CPUs before shipment.”

Over the weekend, the ISF team began installing the necessary infrastructure to create a network and server farm from the ground up. By Sunday, 50 computers were operational and a new server farm had been set up to support the financial management and budget (FMB) division. The back-up tapes that had been stored off-site were then uploaded to the new servers, and software and data were rebuilt. “With the Department of Defense budget due to Congress by October 6th, getting FMB up and running was the second highest priority,” the captain offers.

By Monday morning, 50 percent of the Navy’s spaces, which had been relocated to Crystal City, Virginia, was completely rewired, and more than 450 NMCI portable seats were installed and outfitted with the intranet’s software package.

“The Navy’s crisis relocation and reconstruction efforts were completed on Wednesday, September 19th. Using the NMCI contract as a vehicle for a single point of implementation allowed the Department of the Navy to rapidly recreate all of the communications capabilities it lost in the attack on the Pentagon. Roughly 700 people were back online and conducting Navy business within a week,” Capt. Christopher says.

“This incident demonstrated to everyone the value of this system. If we had done it the way we did in the past, who would you call? Starting from scratch would be incredible. Instead, within a week we were fully reconstituted. The ISF has shown that it sees the same criticality in its service as we do. The confidence building from that event will be seen over time.

“A test like this, which we all would have liked to have avoided, was a good test. When we were thinking about NMCI a year ago, we never thought about this benefit. But it surely was a benefit,” he adds.