Private-sector solutions

Commercial technologies find spot on network-centric front

Special report on new defense opportunities

Walt Kulbacki, AI Metrix Inc.,: "They need the ability to look at their entire operations from one place, and we've been able to dothat."

Henrik G. de Gyor

AI Metrix Inc. provides network management software for some of the most complex networks in the private sector, including customers such as cable provider Comcast Corp. and telephone company Broadwing Inc.

And, not surprisingly, one of its largest customers is the Defense Department. According to the Herndon, Va., company, the Defense Department includes 14 networks, 850 locations, 92,000 network nodes and 2.3 million users.

"They need the ability to look at their entire operation from one place, and we've been able to do that difficult task," said Walt Kulbacki, vice president of federal sales for AI Metrix.

The company provided a solution for Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, for the Joint Network Management System, a $75 million Army-led contract awarded in 2001 to build a high-level network planning, monitoring and control system.

DynCorp, Reston, Va., also uses the company's NeuralStar solution to oversee portions of its network support for the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The military is looking more toward commercial technologies for systems that used to rely on custom-built components, said Dennis McLain, manager of defense and intelligence operations for the federal operation at Sun Microsystems Inc., Palo Alto, Calif.

In particular, the concept of network-centric warfare can benefit from emerging technologies, such as grid computing, wireless and peer-to-peer networking, being nurtured by private companies, McLain said.

Sun itself participated in a cooperative research and development agreement with the Defense Department's National Imagery and Mapping Agency that looked at ways to use Sun's Java programming language to more easily distribute geospatial information across the services.

Since the early 1990s, when the Defense Department needed to tighten its belt following post-Cold War budget cuts, the government has pushed using commercial technologies, said Allen Shay, president of the government systems unit of data warehouse solution provider Teradata, a division of NCR Corp., Dayton, Ohio.

"The government is beginning to understand that it is not unique," Shay said. "What we are seeing with this network-centric warfare is that there are some obvious tools, some commercially proven systems, that can be used."

Accenture Ltd., Hamilton, Bermuda, used Teradata's data warehouse solution in its $33 million contract to build the Financial Information Resource System for the Air Force. The contract was awarded in April 2001.

"There are a lot of commercial companies that provide products to help integrators with the job," said Christine Reynolds, vice president of the Defense Mission Systems unit of Northrop Grumman Information Technology.

For example, Northrop Grumman is incorporating the publish-and-subscribe model of data delivery, first pioneered by commercial companies, into its network-centric solutions. With this approach, the originators of content, be they intelligence agencies with surveillance photos or units in the field with a list of casualties, post their information in an open-access format that other approved parties can access and even receive automatically.

"We very rarely find ourselves going after new business or proposing new solutions that don't have partners from the commercial marketplace. It is our standard teaming approach to partner with commercial providers," said Lorraine Martin, vice president overseeing Lockheed Martin Corp.'s work on the Air Force's Theater Battle Management Core Systems program. This integrates a number of air mission systems into a single, high-level, command-and-control system.

Martin said one of the system's tasks is to provide data to commanders wherever they might be, even in data-restricted environments, such as a plane. The company is looking at using Web-based protocols to allow commanders access to battle awareness data even from standard laptops.

"If you have a Web browser and an account, you can basically log onto this system and get what the air battle is for today," Martin said. *

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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