Faithful Intranet Still Has a Few Good Miles Left

December 3, 2010
By Beverly Schaeffer

On race day, the rallying cry is "Gentlemen, start your engines!" But in the case of the Next Generation Enterprise Network (NGEN)-that opening shot is being delayed by nearly three and a half years via a continuity-of-services (CoS) contract designed to accommodate the complexities of a full-scale transition from the current 10-year-old Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI). Originially slated to hit the track in October, based on an April 2009 CoS contract with NMCI vendor Electronic Data Systems (since acquired by Hewlett-Packard), officials realized the switchover would take more effort and time to complete. Over the long haul, this thorough transition ideally will close all loopholes to ensure a smooth-running, finely tuned machine, according to author David P. Taylor in this month's issue of SIGNAL Magazine. The NMCI's program manager, Capt. Scott Weller, USN, believes the road ahead is level and straight:

The good news is that, on the first [of October], everything worked perfectly. The CoS contract is an NMCI CoS contract. It's still NMCI and will continue to be NMCI into the future.

To appreciate the immenseness of this undertaking, just look at the numbers: the NMCI serves more than 700,000 sailors, Marines and civilians, comprising up to 70 percent of the Navy's total IT footprint. About 384,000 workstations and laptops in more than 3,000 locations use NMCI Navywide, and according to a Navy fact sheet, the network is second only to the Internet in size worldwide. To users, it promises to be a seamless transition, with the Navy having purchased intellectual property from HP, and it's in the process of purchasing some network infrastructure, Capt. Weller says:

This does not mean the Navy has made a decision on how much the government will get involved in the running of the network; it just means the service wants to have the ability to make that decision down the road.

The Navy will move away from the original long-term NMCI contract structure where a single vendor uses its own work force. Instead, over the course of the CoS contract, the service will split NGEN into five segments and have a separate competition for each. There is some doubt as to whether NGEN will be road-ready if its services are divided up among multiple vendors. Kevin Durkin, HP vice president for Navy programs, says his company "took a lot of hits" over NMCI, but the company has recovered to produce a solid network essential to the Navy and Marine Corps. Durkin, along with Patricia Tracey, HP's vice president of industry and development for defense, says the Navy may be making a mistake by taking a different acquisition approach with NGEN. Both advocate competition for end-to-end integration. Capt. Weller acknowledges the numerous challenges in managing a multivendor environment:

The ability to have increased command and control and management of the network-we have to learn how to do that. That's not a huge challenge, but something we haven't done to date. So we need to get our processes and procedures in place. I don't think there is any risk there, it's just about getting up to speed.

The Navy/Marine Corps Intranet ultimately is facing relegation to the cyberspace garage, with the sea services revving up their new NGEN for launch in 43 months. By going the multivendor route, rather than using a single vendor, NMCI/NGEN architects must adjust to multiple changes and procedures. They see no risks, but the current vendor does. Will the NGEN changeover be smooth, or is the road ahead a rocky one? Share your views.

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The NMCI network is far from approaching useful for even routine business at present; it has not lived to so many of its original promises its funny. Hopefully, NGEN will improve on NMCI, but, it will likely be a very rough road. This is in part because the costs associated with NMCI are not being fully realized as productivity loss goes undocumented and communications are actually degrading as NMCI is providing CoS.

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