HP to broaden TAC-4 offerings

The Navy soon is expected to approve a broad technology refreshment of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Tactical Advanced Computer-4 (TAC-4) workstation contract.

In addition to offering price/performance increases with new workstations, servers and graphics technology, the contract update will give Navy users access to mainstream products beyond the scope of the typical rack mount-oriented shipboard environment, said Jim Hartford, HP's TAC-4 program manager.

"This is going to be an excellent vehicle for continued success in the traditional TAC environment," Hartford said. But with the technical refreshes and a new services offering, "this is going to open up the door to more non-TAC environments," Hartford said.

Because the TAC-4 refresh has not been officially approved, pricing information on the new products is not yet available, according to HP.

HP plans to add new dimensions to the contract with the HP 500 Windows Application Server and HP Professional Services—two popular offerings from the company's commercial business.

The HP 500 Windows Application Server is an Intel Corp. Pentium-based server that allows users to run Microsoft Corp. Windows applications on Unix desktops. Introduced last year, the Application Server allows users to cut and paste between Windows and Unix environments.

HP added the Intel server because many shipboard users have standardized on DOS applications, Hartford said. "This product will provide a capability for deployed shipboard users to use a Unix platform off TAC-4 but still support their DOS applications," he said.

HP Professional Services—provided by high-level technical consultants that HP has used among Fortune 200 companies—has the potential to play several roles on the contract, according to the vendor.

In more mainstream cases, these consultants can assist Navy organizations that are exploring ways to improve their underlying information technology infrastructure, Hartford said. For example, HP consultants can help users migrate applications off the mainframe. Users, however, might use consulting services to help them migrate from the older TAC-3-based environments to an infrastructure based on TAC-4, he said.

That migration has been occurring at a much slower rate than either the Navy or HP expected, the vendor said. In part, the problem stems from the different generations of the HP-UX operating system. In response to early complaints, HP is working to provide users with more forward and backward compatibility between the two environments. HP is also expanding TAC-4 with more recent iterations of the standard product set, including hardware, graphics processors and software.

The Navy already has approved the addition of a 100 MHz version of the HP 9000 712 workstation, a low-cost system that provides a substantial performance improvement over the original 80 MHz version.

"The system provides comparable performance to high-end TAC-3 systems at something like one-third the price," Hartford said. The 712/100, which can be configured for around $6,000 to $7,000, has proved to be a popular deployment platform, he said.

HP also is adding K-Class symmetric multiprocessing servers, which can run up to four HP 7200 processors and will be fully upgradable to the 64-bit 8000 processors. HP does not expect the K-Class—a general-purpose server—to play a major role on TAC-4, but the company sees a place for it as a departmental server.

TAC-4 also picks up D-Class SMP servers and C-Class workstations.

Meanwhile, the addition of the Visualize graphics accelerators will give users better performance than current TAC-4 offerings in a more streamlined configuration. The new graphics accelerator fits in the TAC-4 box, unlike its external predecessor on the contract.

Finally, HP is updating the relational database management software to Informix 7.X. The new version was designed specifically to take advantage of SMP servers, which are the standard on TAC-4.

The new TAC-4 lineup gives Navy shipboard uses the broader range of systems they now require, said Rob Kirkland, HP's TAC-4 sales manager.

HP also expects more business from other Defense Department elements, including the Marines, the Coast Guard and more business-oriented Navy users.

On TAC-4, HP has done a good job combining "the best of the commercial world and COTS and what is best for their clients," said Jan Morgan, a research analyst with IDC Government Market Services, Falls Church, Va.

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