Exchange gets Air Force nod

The Air Force has selected Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange as its preferred Defense Message System (DMS) solution and will back that decision with centralized financing and support including a purchase of 105 000 copies of the Exchange client software and 800 copies of the server software valued at $11 million.

Lt. Col. Marian Quinn the DMS program manager at the Air Force Standard Systems Group (SSG) Montgomery Ala. said the top-level decision to select Exchange - approved by Lt. Gen. William Donahue Air Force deputy chief of staff for communications and computers - means bases or commands considering using Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes can do so but will not receive central funding or support from SSG.

The Air Force also will not provide any support to Novell Inc.'s Track 2 DMS product currently going though certification by the Defense Information Systems Agency Quinn told a packed DMS session at the annual Air Force Information Technology Conference last week in Montgomery.

Quinn said that while the policy to standardize on Exchange does not preclude the use of the Lotus or Novell solutions bases that go that route "will do so without my support." Quinn said support consists of site surveys at bases and the DMS hardware suite (including a Compaq Computer Corp. server according to industry sources in Montgomery) as well as training installation and Fortezza cards for encryption.

In response to sharp questioning from some Air Force personnel in the audience Quinn replied that top Air Force management decided the "best DMS step for the Air Force [is] to migrate to Exchange 5.0...because the pool of Lotus users in the Air Force is small." Quinn said it had been determined that 50 percent of the Air Force already uses Exchange and as a result the service did not "consider Lotus as an option."

DISA awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. the $500 million DMS contract in 1995 with Lotus and Microsoft tapped as suppliers for PC-based message software and ESL Inc. as the Unix provider. All three companies had to modify their commercial products to meet the stringent DMS security requirements.

Although a Lotus spokeswoman declined comment last week Lotus officials in attendance at the show reacted strongly to the Air Force decision to standardize on Exchange rather than letting the user community decide which product best fit its requirements.

Novell executives attending the conference also reacted strongly to Quinn's briefing seeking and gaining a meeting with Ken Heitkamp SSG's technical director. Heitkamp acknowledged the meeting with Novell but pointed out that Novell had yet to finish testing and receive DMS certification.

Turning to the Exchange vs. Notes issue Heitkamp said the Air Force "already has a large population familiar with Exchange. Major commands and bases have already decided to use Exchange and we're focusing our effort on it but our primary focus is to get DMS into the real-world environment. DMS is late and we have to get it out."

One industry executive who declined to be named said top Air Force management by all but mandating the use of Exchange will require bases that have already adopted Notes such as Ramstein Air Force Base Germany to "have to rip out Notes and install Exchange if they want any central support."Another industry executive pointed out that his company spent "considerable sums" developing a DMS-compliant product and probably would not have done so if it had any inkling the Air Force would select Exchange without what this executive viewed as both a fair competition and a careful assessment of each product.

Microsoft executives believe Air Force officials did carefully assess the merits of both products before choosing Exchange.

Mary Ellen O'Brien Microsoft's Air Force and Navy manager said the company "has focused on ensuring that the major Air Force command community understands the benefits of our DMS solution."

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