Demand for TCP/IP software heats up
- By Ann Lallande
- May 05, 1996
The proliferation of desktop computers and local-area network-based technology and the Internet explosion are driving a healthy demand for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) software in the federal sector. Government network administrators are looking to expand connectivity between local- and wide-area networks, increase employee access to the Internet, leverage network resources and simplify network management.
TCP/IP transport software is specifically designed to provide scalable, cross-platform connectivity. TCP/IP stacks—the software kernel providing TCP/IP connectivity—and the so-called internetworking suites that run on them vary from vendor to vendor. But their capabilities include distributed file and print services, terminal emulation, file transfer, electronic mail, PC/Unix integration, Internet access, remote dial-in services and network management tools. Support for the Network File System distributed file system is among the fastest-growing TCP/IP applications.
International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., expects PC-based TCP/IP software sales in the United States to top $725.9 million in 1996, up from $528.5 million last year and $287.9 million in 1994. While analysts do not break out sales to the federal government, one industry observer estimated that over the past four years, PC TCP/IP purchases by the government have totaled about $200 million.
The Defense Department and federal research agencies have been longtime users of TCP/IP.
In the past few years, though, civilian agency interest in TCP/IP has gained tremendous momentum, according to Michael E. Shatz, director of government and educational sales for FTP Software Inc.
Initially the purchases came in pockets, Shatz explained. But now "agencies are looking for enterprisewide agreements. They want to know how much it will cost to put TCP/IP on every desktop," he noted.
FTP, Frontier Technologies Corp., Hummingbird Communications Ltd. and NetManage Inc. are among the leading TCP/IP software vendors in the federal arena.
In addition to these offerings, Unix operating systems have included TCP/IP capability for years, and Microsoft Corp. recently began embedding TCP/IP stacks in Windows 95 and Windows NT. IDC predicts that by 1999, 89 percent of all desktop computers will be shipped with integrated TCP/IP stacks.
Agencies view TCP/IP as a vehicle for blending disparate hardware environments and networking protocols. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, has been wrestling with multiple hardware platforms, protocols and network management systems. The agency was operating its legacy System Network Architecture (SNA) mainframe and Digital Equipment Corp. VAX network while trying to keep pace with its fast-growing distributed desktop computers. It wasn't easy.
"We wanted one common solution and one common telecommunication network transport," said Ken P. Ceglowski, manager of network operations. USPS also wanted to be on the Internet to better serve its customers. As a result, Ceglowski said, TCP/IP seemed to be the only viable option. Accordingly, USPS selected FTP's OnNet TCP/IP stack and internetworking suite to connect its SNA and LAN through a single transport protocol.
In a sense, TCP/IP is a natural progression of the client/server environment.
When agencies began developing LANs, people just wanted to share files and printers locally, said Alan W. Smith, a computer specialist at the Department of Health and Human Services' Program Support Center.
No one was worried about talking to anyone on the other side of the agency, much less on the other side of the world, he added. But the LANs expanded outward, connecting into WANs and now to the Internet. "It has become apparent," Smith said, "that by using TCP/IP, agencies can connect users to remote resources on mainframes and minicomputers."
The Program Support Center uses FTP's OnNet. The product's terminal emulation features permit desktop users to access the department's mainframe-based financial management, travel management, vacancy posting and other legacy systems.
Frontier Technologies' SuperTCP Suite 96 includes four dozen applications, including NFS, X Window Server, Internet access and terminal emulation. The Windows-based product is available on the General Services Administration schedule and a number of federal contract vehicles.
Maureen Mahoney, government sales manager for Frontier Technologies, said demand is increasing for the company's products, citing the government's shift from legacy systems to client/server as a factor that is fueling interest.
But it is not just connectivity to legacy systems that agencies are interested in. They are also demanding TCP/IP solutions that work across the entire enterprise, linking remote locations and wireless laptops. Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, N.M., runs TCP/IP on an in-house network, but it is also capitalizing on the remote-access capabilities of its TCP/IP stack. Sandia is connected to one of its satellite contractors—Lockheed Martin Corp., Valley Forge, Pa.—via Rockwell Network Systems' NH-P and NH-5 dial-up routers.
Lockheed Martin tests Sandia's satellite payloads and stores the results on magnetic tapes, which it loads on a Sandia workstation at Lockheed. Sandia scientists in Albuquerque can download test data from Lockheed Martin and conduct remote tests on the payload.
The Coast Guard, meanwhile, is testing its Operational Information System (OIS), a command and control prototype system that uses a Windows NT TCP/IP stack. The Coast Guard is evaluating the system to see if it can improve command and control communications and response time and increase efficiency by reducing redundant data entry.
The project connects the Coast Guard's First District Office in Boston, Group Woods Hole (Cape Cod) and the Coast Guard's Airstation Cape Cod, including the four HH60 Jayhawk helicopters stationed there. The land-based network relies on Rockwell Network Systems' Net Hopper routers and dedicated leased lines to support a real-time, distributed database application. Transmissions to and from helicopter-based laptops are handled by two-way transceivers via commercial satellite. By using a distributed database application, the Coast Guard hopes to ensure that everyone involved in a given operation—an ocean rescue, for example—is working with the same information.
The Coast Guard expects that satellite-to-laptop transmissions will be a lot more reliable than radio transmissions, which are often garbled by static and have to be repeated several times, said Lt. Cmdr. Thomas C. Pedagno, the Coast Guard's OIS project manager.
TCP/IP can also simplify network management and support. At HHS, the approach liberated seven offices from having to maintain separate cable systems for two different networks. One set of cables connected minicomputers on an ARCnet, while the other wiring supported a LAN. Through TCP/IP, "we were able to effectively turn off most of the ARCnet cabling and put everything on one wire plan," Smith said.
One network means one network card in each computer, not two, and fewer dollars spent on maintenance and support.
Sean Thakkar, chief technology officer for the Central California District of the U.S. Marshals Service, calculated that TCP/IP will cut the annual cost of desktop support from $2,000 per seat to $700 to $800 per seat. Currently, "the cost of support is skyrocketing because you have to spend the dollars and cents to have people at the local-area level," he said. "We can't continue to provide on-site hand-holding and technical support."
Before the advent of TCP/IP and server management software applications, there were few tools available for remote support.
TCP/IP enables network support staff to click on someone's computer name, tap into the computer, see exactly what the user is doing and guide the person through the problem. TCP/IP, Thakkar said, allows you to support thousands of computers from anywhere in the world. Thakkar declined to discuss the specific products involved in his agency's TCP/IP solution.
For government users trying to stretch their dollars, embedded stacks—those included within operating systems—can be a boon. In the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), the Information Resources Management Division has been responsible for standardizing configurations across some 2,000 computers and implementing TCP/IP on every desktop. "We have a tight budget," said Cmdr. John B. O'Connor, an assistant in the division. "The problem is trying to decide where to spend our money."
As the IRM division upgraded the CNO's operating systems to Windows for Workgroups on client desktops and to Windows NT on the server, it deployed the TCP/IP stack embedded in the latter operating system. As a result, O'Connor said, "we didn't have to spend additional money for network connectivity."
The Internet Factor
The Internet, with its underlying TCP/IP, is a major factor driving agency adoption of TCP/IP, according to J. Fitzgerald Stewart, a senior consultant in the technology division at Pulsar Data Systems Inc., a Lanham, Md., 8(a) reseller. In previous years, the first priority for most agencies was increased access to internal database applications, with Internet connectivity second on the agencies' to-do list. But in "the past six to nine months, the order of the priorities has been reversed," he said.
At HHS, "the objective of the Program Support Center is to have Internet access for every desktop," Smith said. HHS is interested in a number of resources on the World Wide Web, from a mundane-but-handy nationwide phone directory to sites featuring health information key to the department's work.
The civilian personnel office at Marine Corps headquarters, Arlington, Va., shares the same Internet goal. By implementing NetManage's Chameleon Desktop TCP/IP applications for Windows, the Marine Corps plans to gradually phase out expensive leased-line communications in favor of less expensive Internet connections for the 2,000 users on its unclassified network. And access to the Internet will let personnel tap into the Office of Personnel Management's WWW site to get information about government policies concerning employee relations, unemployment compensation and injury compensation.
As the Marine Corps' implementation demonstrates, use of the Internet is triggering a technology transfer of sorts, and agencies are beginning to employ Internet connections as well as on-site Web browsers and Web servers to create in-house intranets. "Intranets are very, very new," said Peter J. Auditore, director of marketing at Hummingbird, Mountain View, Calif. "Most agencies have yet to develop one, but the seeds have been planted."
Network managers at the Marshals Service and HHS are investigating the logistics of implementation. "An intranet," HHS' Smith said, "is a powerful tool for disseminating information about agency policies and procedures."
Lallande is an Annapolis, Md.-based independent writer who specializes in high-technology topics.