- By Dan Caterinicchia, Dan Caterinicchia
- Sep 03, 2001
The latest recipe for SEWP NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement contract includes many new ingredients for feds looking to buy high-end workstations, peripherals and more. With 100,000 more line items, NASA is betting that agencies will find something for every taste simmering in the newest pot of state-of-the-art technologies.
Like its two predecessors, SEWP III is a fixed-price, indefinite- delivery, indefinite-quantity contract featuring high-end workstations, peripherals and more. The SEWP contracts have been among the most successful governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) and have been especially popular with federal users of high-end Unix- and Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based workstations. SEWP III is designed to give NASA a source for the state-of-the-art computer systems it needs for scientific research and engineering projects. NASA researchers must be able to analyze, visualize, store and share vast amounts of data about Earth and space. They also use computers to design items ranging from circuit boards to the International Space Station. But SEWP is open to all federal agencies, and its eight vendors offer much more than the highest-end systems.
The first SEWP contract, awarded in 1993, helped establish Unix as the preferred operating system for NASA's scientific and engineering workstations and servers, but over the years, more and more systems using Windows NT have been added to the contract.
Products, Not Services
Still, despite its growing breadth and depth, there has been some confusion among agencies about what to expect from the SEWP contracts, said Joanne Woy.tek, SEWP program manager at NASA.
"The key difference between SEWP II and SEWP III is the very, very clear statement" that SEWP III is an information technology product contract, not an IT service contract, Woy.tek said. "It's easy to keep up with technology through these contracts."
Services, however, are harder to get a handle on, which is why no more than 30 percent of any order on SEWP III can be for services, which NASA defines as labor related to a product.
"SEWP II was not clear that it was not a services contract," but that will be made clear through advertisements, online alerts and other efforts for SEWP III, Woytek said. If an agency wants high-end IT products, Woytek urges them to use SEWP III, but for services, "there are better contracts out there."
But at least one vendor is thrilled that some services can be offered through SEWP. Patricia Chilson, SEWP III program manager at Unisys Corp., said that by including some labor, SEWP III can offer agencies more comprehensive solutions while stepping up competition among vendors which should keep down prices.
"It is a products contract, but [NASA] allowed services for the first time," Chilson said. "Now when we sell something, we're not only selling network security hardware [for example], but a solution an engineer or security analyst to go with it."
Chilson said SEWP III also will better serve agencies because it includes several multiple-award contracts, compared with just one on the previous version. Unisys was one of the original vendors on SEWP and now features products from more than 120 suppliers, about double the original number.
Another reason SEWP has continued to be popular for nearly 10 years is because agencies aren't locked in to one particular company's product, Chilson said.
More to Buy
This year, SEWP III officials required all workstations to support accessibility features as mandated by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies to buy technology accessible to people with disabilities. The SEWP III contract also includes provisions for security tools for the first time.
"As NASA has expanded SEWP, GTSI has expanded right along with it," said Joel Lipkin, senior vice president of the customer support division at GTSI Corp., which is the exclusive provider of Sun Microsystems Inc. products on the contract. "Our scope on SEWP III is considerably broader. That's important for customers because if they want Sun [products] they can get them, and it's backed by GTSI's technology and customer teams."
"NASA continues to have requirements to support engineering environments and [programs] for NASA as a whole and there's a progression in the product line for computer manufacturers that continue to need higher and higher performance in order to do those jobs," said John Leahy III, chief of staff at Sun.
Lipkin said other areas where GTSI has expanded its offerings are in the areas of networking and storage. For networking, GTSI will offer an array of products from Cisco Systems Inc., 3Com Corp. and Alcatel, and on the storage side, products from EMC Corp. and others will be available. He noted that GTSI was the only prime contractor to be awarded contracts for three classes of SEWP III products: mechanical computer-aided design, networking devices and mass storage devices.
Although NASA has steadily expanded the number of products available on SEWP, the basic types of products the space agency has sought have not changed much, Woytek said. For example, "We've always had storage and networking," she said. All the way "back to SEWP I, the changes have been minimal."
The only contracts still pending are two small-business set-asides. NASA anticipated reissuing solicitations for computer support devices and security system tools around Aug. 30. "No awards have been made, and a new [request for proposals] will be released as soon as possible for those two classes only," Woytek said.
Bob Robitaille, SEWP III program manager at Hewlett-Packard Co., said the company has moved nearly all of its SEWP II offerings to the new contract and plans to incorporate new technologies during the next few months at NASA's request. He said HP offers products on SEWP III ranging from $2,000 servers to multimillion-dollar Superdome high-end Unix servers and will have significantly more products on the new contract including servers, workstations and storage products.
"The desire is to be better, faster and cheaper," Robitaille said, "and as technology moves forward, and [with] our ability with recent updates to save the government money, we can do it faster and cheaper. That supports the general trend of technology." There has been a great deal of interest among agencies in workstations and servers based on Intel Corp.'s new Itanium processor, and that trend is reflected in HP's SEWP III offerings, he said.
Larry Reynolds, SEWP III program manager at Silicon Graphics Inc., said the addition of Section 508 compliance tools was the most obvious new trend. However, he also said that the increasing popularity of Linux an open-source version of Unix the powerful Itanium processors and SEWP's new security section dictated what SGI will offer its customers.
"To satisfy this requirement for affordable high-performance and standards-based computing, SGI just announced the launch of its first Itanium processor-based system running Linux," Reynolds said.
The Silicon Graphics 750 system for Linux is SGI's "first milestone on the Itanium product road map being developed for Linux," and as the company continues to develop other products, those will also be added to SEWP III, Reynolds said. The other SEWP III vendors are IBM Global Services Inc., Government Micro Resources Inc., Compaq Computer Corp. and Logicon FDC.
SEWP II accounted for 3.4 percent of the $13.3 billion agencies spent on GWACs in fiscal 2000, according to Federal Sources Inc., a market research and consulting firm. Agencies spent most on the General Services Administration's Schedule 70, Broadband Distance Learning Services, and Management, Organization and Business Improvement Services contracts.
"Looking at the highest-level summary data on where agencies are spending, it is clear that companies need a combination of [GSA] schedules and GWACs to capture their share of government business," according to the FSI report. The analysis also showed that agencies use a mix of GWAC-type contracts to address their particular business needs.
The first SEWP contract produced nearly $500 million in sales in four years. SEWP II, which began in 1997 and expired in July, collected about 1,000 task orders per month, adding up to about $1.5 billion in sales, and offered about 300,000 line items. SEWP III will feature about 400,000 products and is capped at $4 billion, Woytek said. After NASA, SEWP's top customers are the Army, Navy, Air Force and Commerce Department.
"The goal of SEWP is first and foremost to meet NASA's needs," Woytek said. "If it can help other agencies, we're happy to do so.