Marines embrace new IT strategy

The Marine Corps plans to pursue an enterprisewide information technology strategy over the next several years based on a standard set of products and services extending from a servicewide intranet to the desktop.

Debra Filippi, deputy chief information officer for the Marine Corps, said the service developed this strategy "in harmony with the Navy." The Marines, Filippi said, have embraced the Navy's Information Technology for the 21st Century standards, which provide a common computing environment based on commercial products for Navy systems on ships and on shore.

Filippi, speaking at the Navy Connecting Technology Conference this month in San Diego, said the Marines plan to develop a servicewide Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN) to link regional networks serving key commands and bases in the United States and overseas.

Designed with security in mind, this network, which rides on the Defense Department's Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET), will have no "backdoor circuits," which allow users to get on the network without going over the secure backbone, and will limit network access to authorized users, the Navy said. MCEN will feature eight firewalls, according to the Navy.

The Marines plans to build MCEN and the regional networks on basic hardware building blocks contained in a fiscal 1999 buyers' guide, which will include hubs, routers and switches, Filippi said.

The Marines also plan to establish "enterprise solution" blanket purchase agreements this year for desktops and laptops based on the Navy IT-21 PC standards. These BPAs will help eliminate the proliferation of disparate PCs, software and systems throughout the Marine Corps, Filippi said. "We want to end 'Radio Shack buying' of computer equipment," Filippi said.

Next year, the Marines plan to move to centralized procurements of desktops, laptops and servers for Marine users worldwide, followed by centralized procurement of hubs, switches and routers in 2002, Filippi said.

The Navy already has taken steps to support the Marines' enterprise strategy, according to Capt. Mark Lenci, deputy program director for the global information and network systems directorate at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

Lenci said Spawar is working closely with the Marine Corps Systems Command to develop common standards and solutions, particularly on amphibious ships that carry Marine ground and aviation forces. "We're making it easier for the Marines to embark to those platforms so they have to embark with very little of their own gear."

Lenci said he believes the Marines can take advantage of economies of scale in purchasing equipment as well as attain operational synergy by signing on to the Naval Virtual Intranet, backed by Adm. Archie Clemins, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, and under development by Spawar.

The Marines recently took over operation of the former Miramar Naval Air Station, just miles from Spawar headquarters in downtown San Diego, and Lenci said Miramar would make a logical node on the regional network Spawar has set up to serve Navy commands in San Diego.

Filippi declined to say whether she endorsed such a move, but she pointed out that the Marine Corps viewed Miramar as an integral part of its California network, which revolves around Camp Pendleton, in northern San Diego County. The Marines, through MCEN and its regional offshoots, are working to "be our own provider" of Intranet services, she said.

Filippi acknowledged that the Marines could gain economies of scale by signing on to Navy enterprise deals, but she quickly added that the Marines would not sign on to the Spawar San Diego enterprisewide pilot of Lotus Development Corp. software, including messaging products, "because we are committed to [Microsoft Corp.] Exchange."

Robert Guerra, a government IT consultant, said the Marines' embrace of an enterprise strategy— espoused by top DOD leadership and the other military services— did not surprise him. "Everyone wants to take advantage of the buying power" large-scale enterprisewide deals represent, Guerra said. But unless such deals are made mandatory, "individual commands will still go their own way," he said.

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