NIH plans 5-year pact for next-generation computing

The National Institutes of Health last week unveiled its preliminary plan for a new five-year networking contract that the agency will use to build its next-generation computing infrastructure.

The buy part of Project CERTAN (Computer Equipment Resources and Technology Acquisition for NIH) is smaller in scope than originally planned when the program was developed three years ago. NIH has decided to limit the CERTAN Network Infrastructure buy to network gear infrastructure design services and network operations and to purchase workstations servers and software from other federal contracts.

Although the draft request for proposals does not describe a specific upgrade path for the NIH backbone network or its more than 275 local-area networks the agency expects the winning vendor to be able to support Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology in the future. Interest in this technology which would provide more bandwidth than NIH's existing networks comes mainly from doctors and researchers who want to transmit large image files said John Dickson chief of high-performance scientific computing with NIH's Division of Computer Research and Technology (DCRT). "It's more or less at the stage of investigation right now " he said. Dickson is in charge of the procurement for the agency.

Imaging Drives Demand

"The imaging folks are the ones pushing bandwidth " said Steve Grimaldi director of the Advanced Systems Division with Universal Hi-Tech Development which plans to compete for the contract. "They need to push larger amounts of data at faster rates."

NIHnet the existing network backbone for the agency uses 100 megabit/sec Fiber Distributed Data Interface technology. NIH LANs run on a variety of platforms including Ethernet Token Ring and FDDI.

"There is a kind of convergence in the government marketplace in terms of an interest in higher-bandwidth networking " said Warren Suss a Jenkintown Pa. telecommunications consultant. ATM "has become the technology of choice in sending integrated data and imagery over a network " he said although agencies have been cautious about adopting it so far.

The Network Infrastructure procurement represents an effort by NIH to consolidate its network acquisition operations and maintenance support under one contract. In its most recently published information resources management plan the agency said centralizing support and services would be one way to control network operating expenses.

The various NIH institutes centers and divisions purchase their own computing equipment but DCRT provides end-user and network support services for these offices.

Federal Sources Inc. estimated the procurement would be worth around $70 million but now that NIH will not be using the contract to buy desktop computers servers or software the agency expects to spend less Dickson said. He said he could not provide an expected value for the procurement.

NIH may let multiple pacts for the work. Dickson said NIH plans to award the procurement by the end of the year.

Network Infrastructure is one of four Project CERTAN procurements. Two Corporate Computing and Support Services have already been awarded. Another Scientific Computing is still in the planning stage.

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