Users gripe about NT, Exchange

Key network and computer personnel in at least one major Air Force command have filed a letter of complaint with the Air Force's inspector general over a decision to make the Microsoft Corp. NT operating system and MS-Exchange messaging software a servicewide standard.

The letter written by personnel at Air Mobility Command (AMC) headquarters Scott Air Force Base Ill. was filed before Lt. Gen. William Donahue Air Force deputy chief of staff for communications and computers approved a decision in August to standardize on NT and buy 105 000 copies of Exchange client software and 800 copies of the server software at a total cost of $11 million. AMC personnel said the IG passed their complaints to Donahue who has yet to reply. An Air Force spokeswoman in the Pentagon said Donahue would be unable to discuss the complaints until the IG completes its probe.

AMC personnel who asked to remain anonymous emphasized the primary focus of their complaint deals with the process by which the Air Force selected NT and Exchange. They claim the Air Force "never conducted" a technical evaluation of NT and Exchange nor did the service look at the direct cost impact on commands such as AMC which has more than 50 percent of its users running GroupWise a messaging package from Novell Inc. that is slated to receive formal Defense Message System certification this week.The Defense Department devised the DMS program a decade ago as a follow-on to the aging Autodin system which is designed to transmit secure messages including tactical and strategic operational messages.

Scott Allegations

Scott personnel filed a formal complaint to the IG in June alleging that the Air Force Communications Command which performs technical evaluations of products "misused its position...to fraudulently persuade leaders of several Air Force major commands...to adopt network schemes based on a single vendor product [Microsoft NT]." The letter added that adapting NT "in support of DMS deployment is a fallacy particularly when the implemented version is not the same as that being tested for DMS."

"The cost differentials are ridiculous" between Exchange and GroupWise one AMC staff member said last week. Network staff at Scott estimate it will cost the base at least $4.5 million to convert from GroupWise to NT and Exchange with the Microsoft solution delivering poorer performance.

Based on results of an operational evaluation of Exchange and Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes the other approved DMS PC client AMC may have to absorb additional millions in costs. According to results of that evaluation obtained by FCW the Defense Information Systems Agency deferred a requirement that DMS PC clients run on a PC with lower horsepower than an Intel Corp. 486 chip with 16M of memory. This deferral means that AMC which sources say has at least 1 000 486s at Scott AFB alone may be forced to junk those and buy Pentium replacements at a total cost of more than $2 million.

"A 486 with 16M [of RAM] will run Excel but not much else " said an AMC source "and even then it takes the machine about 20 seconds to boot up." This source added that 486s can run GroupWise and the DMS version of that messaging software while at the same time handling a normal load of application software. But a Microsoft Federal spokeswoman disagreed saying the company routinely and smoothly runs Exchange on a variety of platforms and operating systems including 486s. "This could be a configuration issue " she said. Peter Vretos senior systems engineer at Microsoft Federal said scalability has not been an issue with the company's customers.

Mike McLaughlin vice president for major markets at Novell said GroupWise passed the DMS evaluation including the ability to run on a 486 "with flying colors." McLaughlin who said Novell spent $8 million to develop its DMS product and to see it through the evaluation and certification process said "We neither asked for nor received any deferrals except for the general deferrals [granted by DISA and its Joint Interoperability Test Center]."

DISA awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. the $500 million DMS contract in 1995 with Microsoft and Lotus selected to supply PC-based messaging software and ESL Inc. selected as the Unix provider.

All three companies bid versions of their commercial software modified to meet stringent DMS requirements for security and authentication. The program has consistently run behind schedule since the award. Earlier this year the Joint Chiefs of Staff began a re-evaluation of the original DMS requirements in view of the end of the Cold War and advances in commercial computer technology.

DOD insiders expect the JCS to release the results of that study within weeks and predict it will call for a restructuring of DMS based largely on commercial specifications with military-unique software reserved for only a small class of users.

The Air Force revealed its decision to standardize on Exchange earlier this month during the Information Technology Conference hosted by the Standard Systems Group in Montgomery Ala. There Lt. Col. Marian Quinn the DMS program manager told Air Force users from around the world that the decision to standardize on Exchange does not preclude commands or bases from using Notes or GroupWise. But she said organizations that opt for anything but Exchange "will do so without my support." This support consists of base site surveys a DMS hardware suite training installation and encryption cards.

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