Marines to build enterprise net

The Marine Corps last month kicked off an 18-month, $226 million project to develop a worldwide, high-speed network and a new approach to delivering and managing network services.

A ceremony held last month at the new Marine Corps Materiel Command, Albany, Ga., marked the initial phase of the Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN), a global effort that includes plans for base telecommunications upgrades, network infrastructure upgrades and a new regional services concept throughout the Corps.

Under the regional services concept, the Corps will establish eight self-contained intranets, beginning with Albany, that will be networked together to provide greater efficiency and security by reducing the number of network entry points that must be managed and secured. Within the next 45 days, the Corps plans to set up the second site at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Debra Filippi, deputy chief information officer for the Corps, likened the effort to the Navywide intranet concept proposed by Rear Adm. John Gauss in April. According to Gauss' plan, a Navywide intranet would support everything from electronic commerce to battlefield communications [FCW, Nov. 16, 1998].

"This will establish the model for standing up seven other [MCEN] regions in the Marine Corps [and] is a giant step toward enabling Operational Maneuver From the Sea, our warfighting concept for the 21st century," Filippi said. Operational Maneuver From the Sea is the Corps' Information Age warfighting strategy. It is designed to provide the Corps with the ability to operate more effectively from ships at sea by taking advantage of 21st century command and control technologies.

Col. Mike Cooper, the Corps' assistant deputy chief information officer and director of CIO plans and policy, said the MCEN also is the Corps' first step toward treating information technology "like we treat electricity - like a utility."

Central to the Corps' efforts is the establishment of eight strategic regional network nodes - in Albany; Quantico, Va.; Camp Lejeune; Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Hawaii; Europe; and Japan - that will be linked together by an Asynchronous Transfer Mode backbone at speeds up to DS3 level, or 45 megabytes/sec. The eight regional nodes, which will be linked via a secure intranet, also will be connected to various subregional commands and bases using ATM, according to Cooper.

The Defense Information Systems Agency will provide the Corps with the ATM equipment and an initial bandwidth capacity of DS3. However, pricing for additional capacity will be based on demand, "with the promise that DISA will expand as our needs expand," Cooper said.

The new network structure also will enable the Corps to batten down its security hatches even tighter by reducing the number of firewalls and network entry points from 32 to eight, according to Cooper.

In addition to providing intranet links for users behind the firewall, each major regional node will maintain a single public-access World Wide Web page for all its subordinate commands and bases, Cooper said. In fact, within the next few weeks the Corps plans to issue guidance forbidding the development of "backdoor" circuits or home-grown network entry points, Cooper said.

"We've locked [the network] down; now we're going to streamline it," Cooper said.

Once the entire MCEN is in place, the Corps expects to cut its $36 million to $38 million annual telephone costs in half, according to Cooper. In addition, the Corps estimates that by centralizing services in the MCEN, it can cut the costs of sustaining its IT infrastructure from about $130 million to about $75 million, Cooper said.

The Corps' streamlining efforts and the centralization of services also will lead to other avenues of potential savings, including reducing the number of required IT technicians and eliminating the requirement for separate video teleconferencing circuits.

The Corps has tapped Lucent Technologies and Boeing Information Services to help get the first two regional sites up and running and to make the Corps' vision for an enterprise network a reality. "They are the stewards of [the integration effort]," Cooper said.

Warren Suss, president of Warren H. Suss Associates, a telecommunications consulting firm, said similar efforts throughout the Navy indicate a revolutionary new approach to enterprise management, which he called a "superserver environment," in which the military services rely on fewer, but more powerful, network nodes. According to Suss, "The Navy [and the Marines are] really onto something with what they've been trying to do [in terms of] managing their servers."

Suss characterized the Corps' effort as a "very intelligent" solution, given the drain on skilled systems administrators throughout the Defense Department. "This will allow [the Corps] to devote more skilled manpower to the operations and maintenance of their servers," Suss said. However, there still are internal cultural obstacles that must be overcome in convincing old-school administrators to give up their control, he said. "The biggest challenge is not in the technology but in the internal sale."

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Project Goals

* Increase bandwidth* Reduce the number of firewalls* Increase operational savings and affordability* Enforce enterprisewide standards* Support future warfighting concepts and doctrine

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