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For the Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, system security is essential

Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center

When one thinks about matters of national security, meteorological readings are not one of the first things that come to mind. Yet for the Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, system security is essential.

The meteorological data the center collects is not classified, said Mike Clancy, chief scientist and deputy technical director at the center, which is based in Monterey, Calif. But because much of the data comes from Navy ships and other troops, the information is very sensitive, Clancy said. It could potentially let adversaries know the location of military forces.

Fleet Numerical, as the center is commonly called, is the Defense Department's principal center for processing meteorological and oceanographic analyses and predictions. Using supercomputers that process more than 6 million observations daily, the center is responsible for providing global and regional atmospheric models and forecasts.

The center has the world's most complete database of oceanographic and atmospheric observations that is assessed several times each day to produce the sophisticated forecasts. The center then produces oceanic and atmospheric analyses and forecasts as far as 10 days ahead of time.

These forecasts are distributed to regional centers and made available to DOD via the Web and dial-up connections. The center primarily supports the Navy, but it also provides data to all services. The Air Force, for example, is the center's single biggest customer, using the center's data more than any other Navy activity.

Fleet Numerical uses an Origin 3000 server and the IRIX operating system, both from SGI, in part because of their security functions. The system enables the center to handle multilevel security.

Previously, the center was using Cray Inc. supercomputers and operating its systems in a classified mode, so the data was not available at desktop computers. Instead, users had to go to secure terminal rooms, and center officials had to go through a cumbersome process of separating the unclassified data, Clancy said.

"It made it much less convenient," he said. "With multilevel security, people have access to the unclassified data at their desktops."

Fleet Numerical made its decision about the SGI systems about a year ago, before they had been certified by the National Information Assurance Partnership, Clancy said. But the certification has made it easier to complete security reviews on the classified systems.

"We think it is a very good thing," he said.

Lang Craighill, senior director of SGI's federal operations, said that the NIAP certification has been essential for SGI. "We've got a couple of programs that we're involved with only because we're involved" with the NIAP certification, he said.

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