FDC wins $55M CERTAN contract

The National Institutes of Health has chosen FDC Technologies Inc. Bethesda Md. for a $55 million contract to upgrade and replace mainframes for the agency.

The award made in mid-December is the second of four procurements planned under Project CERTAN (Computer Equipment Resources and Technology Acquisition for NIH) a program worth about $400 million to update the agency's scientific and administrative systems. The first award for CERTAN Information Technology Support Services went to SRA International Inc. and Science Applications International Corp. in November.

CERTAN Corporate Computing is the fourth major contract or subcontract that NIH has bestowed on FDC Technologies in the past two years. The company also supplies equipment and services to the agency through the Electronic Computer Store ImageWorld and Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP) programs.

The equipment primarily will support administrative and database applications for NIH's Division of Computer Research and Technology (DCRT) and mirror-image backup for the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center Bethesda. In addition NIH plans to provide data processing services to other Department of Health and Human Services agencies that are closing their data centers under an Office of Management and Budget directive to merge such operations.

So far HHS has decided that mainframe processing performed by its Information Technology Service Rockville Md. (formerly Parklawn Computer Center) will be taken over by DCRT. The future of other HHS data centers has yet to be determined.

The consolidation plan also allows the NIH Computer Center to provide up to one-fourth of its available capacity to other agencies said John Dickson chief of high-performance scientific computing at DCRT. "The result of that is we will not buy the absolute lowest level that the contract allows but we will buy a higher level" of processing capacity he said.

DCRT plans to use the contract to migrate its mainframe applications from proprietary IBM Corp. MVS- and VM-based systems to an open-systems environment although the agency expects to maintain the legacy operating systems for users who need them. FDC Technologies will provide IBM mainframes to replace older machines which include three IBM 3090s and two ES/9000s. The new mainframe models will run a Posix-compliant operating system capable of running Unix MVS and VM applications.

Dickson said DCRT will not directly replace the existing systems but will base its purchases on capacity requirements.

Launched in 1994 the CERTAN program is designed to replace the controversial Total Systems Contract a mainframe-oriented procurement awarded in 1988 to IBM that critics charged was biased toward that company. NIH's existing mainframes were purchased through that contract but this time around NIH specified that while it wanted bidders to offer MVS- and VM-compatible technology it would not buy proprietary operating system software.

The DCRT systems currently process 28 000 batch jobs 10 000 interactive sessions and 125 000 database transactions every day for 17 000 users throughout the government. Meanwhile according to the request for proposals for the Corporate Computing procurement "several thousand users" tap databases maintained by the clinical center to obtain patient records track medical test results and manage blood donations.

The necessity of the CERTAN contracts including Corporate Computing was questioned earlier this year when NIH launched its broad-based CIO-SP procurement. But Paul Taltavull senior vice president of FDC Technologies said the company's contract would provide data center integration services not available from other vehicles.

"This is a highly complex environment and there is some specialized software that's been developed over the years " he said. "They recognize the complexity of their environment and the need to rely on a single contractor to make it work."

Bob Dornan senior vice president of market research firm Federal Sources Inc. said the award to FDC Technologies a subsidiary of Federal Data Corp. confirms the company's position as "one of the leaders in integrating mainframe systems." Finalists for the contract included Vion Corp. Washington D.C. and CCL Inc. Bethesda Md.

Federal Data currently holds mainframe contracts with the Justice Department the FBI and the Veterans Benefits Administration as well as a contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for Unix processors.

"Because most awards now are heavily weighted for past performance [the NIH award] demonstrates they've had the ability to succeed in the past " Dornan said.

Two other CERTAN procurements are pending. A revised draft RFP for CERTAN Distributed Resources to supply local-area networks and related technologies to NIH is expected to be released this month. According to background information provided by NIH the scope of the final procurement for scientific systems is being reassessed.

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