Navy finds a more efficient mail call

Lotus Development Corp.'s Domino is helping the Navy streamline electronic communications with the ships of the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.

Ship communications are always limited by the narrow-bandwidth satellite link used to connect to land-based servers.

"A ship at sea has the same bandwidth the average user has at home on the Internet," said Sam Katz, information technology director for the Atlantic Fleet. On the ship, though, "up to 100 people may share that connection."

The solution was server replication with Domino Release 5, which employs mirrored servers on land and on board ships. "It had to replicate via satellite channels, which was the biggest technical issue," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Houston of the Navy's Network-Centric Innovation Center in San Diego. "It also had to be automatic, with no operator intervention."

The system minimizes calls to the shore server by maintaining information on board. For example, the Admiral's Brief, a daily document on operations, is understandably popular with the crew.

By writing one copy on the shipboard server, multiple requests for the document create no additional traffic on the satellite circuit. "On our old system, if five people on board wanted access to the Admiral's Brief, they'd all have to make calls to the shore server and tie up our bandwidth," Houston said.

That reduced traffic leaves more bandwidth for personal communications, which improves morale. "From a quality-of-life perspective, putting technology like Domino on the ships is the best thing we've done in the last 100 years," Katz said.

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