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Case Study 2
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CONCEPTSOLUTIONS SUCCESS STORY:

General Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center

 

completed October 2005

 

Introduction

Located aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, the General Alfred M. Gray Marine Corps Research Center (GRC) opened in May 1993, to support the growing professional military education and academic needs of students, faculty and staff at the fully accredited Marine Corps University (MCU).  The GRC resides under the Marine Corps Training and Education Command (TECOM) along with seven other Education Command (EDCOM) divisions, including the MCU Headquarters, Command and Staff College, and Marine Corps War College. 

 

While MCU’s mission is to develop, deliver, and evaluate professional military education and training through resident and distance education programs in order to prepare leaders to meet the challenges of operational environments, the GRC is designed to be the central research facility for Marines in operational units around the world.

 

The GRC includes a comprehensive collection of library, research, and archival material with emphasis upon the study of amphibious and expeditionary warfare.  As an educational resource, the GRC links scholarly research and professional military education with operational lessons learned to stimulate the development of successful concepts, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures.

 

The GRC consists of three distinct components: the Marine Corps University Archives, Library, and Conference Center.  To assist staff, faculty and students with information processing requirements, the GRC established a management architecture in 1993. With expanding IT needs, the GRC knew that the enhancement and augmentation of this architecture would be necessary to improve the effectiveness of staff, faculty and student business processes. This information management architecture, built upon a Windows 2003 LAN architecture, utilized advanced communications and cooperative work technology to provide users with information access, cross-association, manipulation, aggregation and retrieval, and storage capabilities.

 

The Challenge

The data communication-processing environment within the GRC encompasses two platforms: microcomputers and Local Area Network/Wide Area Network computers. The GRC’s LAN runs Windows 2003 network operating system under Ethernet topology. The network consists of 10 servers, 150 personal computers, 50+ printers (including 7 color printers), and scanners (grayscale and color), all connected by level 5 unshielded twisted pair premise wiring connected to Bay and Cisco switches.  This network had been connected to the Marine Corps Enterprise Network (MCEN), giving users access to more than 65,000 other users, worldwide, who consequently had access to the Research Center.

In the late-1990s, the GRC began a six-year approval process for plans to bolster its existing IT infrastructure in support of growing information needs.  During that time, the GRC resided on the World Wide Web with a .mil Internet domain designation, while all information services were carried over the closed MCEN.  Because of the system’s configuration, vital online services were limited and/or unavailable to many remote users as well as users outside of the MCEN.  In addition, the network made online communication impractical for many of the base’s transient population, including international students, commuting students, and other out-of-town visitors needing to access and send email.

 

“Whatever IT vendor we chose was going to face an added challenge,” said Dr. Kurt Sanftleben, GRC Director.  “They would have to balance the particular requirements of the GRC’s various patrons with the unique day-to-day business requirements of GRC staff.”

 

While the rest of the Marine Corps prepared to convert to the new Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) and remain on their current .mil domain, the GRC needed a better solution.  The .mil NMCI had several shortcomings and would not serve the GRC’s current and future requirements.  First, the NMCI was not designed for use in the complexities of an accredited academic environment.  Second, an NMCI implementation would result in significant loss of capabilities at the GRC.  Third, there had already been five unsuccessful NMCI Naval Library conversions attempted at other bases, creating a need to operate both legacy and NMCI workstations on all desks in order to access information.  Finally, NMCI would greatly reduce government mandated public accessibility to the GRC Archives, and place the GRC Library’s Federal Depository status in jeopardy. 

 

The GRC’s growing concerns about the performance and limitations of the proposed NMCI system conversion prompted it to seek a more flexible, long-term solution.

 

The Solution

Concluding that the .mil NMCI presented a “direct threat to accomplishment of the mission of the GRC, and by extension, the mission of the Marine Corps University,” the Center enlisted the technical expertise of information management and technology consulting company ConceptSolutions to help chart a new course for its network.  For GRC to maintain the current level of services and to offer any growth potential for the future, ConceptSolutions determined that a complete transition to a .edu domain was “mission essential.”

 

The GRC had attempted a shift to a .edu domain once before in 2001.  That effort was stymied due to undefined NMCI capabilities and costs.  Despite past failure, GRC and ConceptSolutions agreed that, working together, .edu still provided the best networking option and would:

 

1.      Provide critical IT infrastructure;

2.      Provide significantly enhanced connectivity and access for all users at MCU and those accessing the University through distance learning;

3.      Enable remote servicing of GRC databases by vendors; and

4.      Make possible services not currently available and which would be impossible to offer under NMCI.

 

The new .edu network promised to provide several advantages over the .mil network configuration, as well as the proposed NMCI option:

 

Domain Comparison

 

 

 

.mil (Current)

 

 

.mil (NMCI)

 

.edu

 

Business email

 

 

Yes

 

Yes

 

Yes

 

Internet Access

 

 

Limited

 

Limited

 

Yes

Public/USMC access to Horizon (Library) and ISYS (Archives)

 

Limited

 

No

 

Yes

 

Resident faculty research support

 

 

Limited

 

No

 

Yes

External access to GRC system for vendor maintenance/support

 

No

 

No

 

Yes

 

Web-based email access for patrons

 

 

No

 

No

 

Yes

Patron access to commercial e-content databases supporting MCU curricula

 

Limited

 

No

 

Yes

 

Streaming media

 

 

N/A

 

No

 

Yes

 

IE/IR Surveys completed via network

 

 

Yes

 

Limited

 

Yes

REQUIRE TWO SYSTEMS/WORKSTATIONS PER DESKTOP

 

NO

 

YES

 

NO

 

 

With preliminary approval in July 2003, ConceptSolutions and its subcontractor AnviCom embarked on Phase 1: migrating the GRC’s network from .mil to .edu.  Anticipating that other divisions within EDCOM would benefit from a similar migration using GRC’s success as a model, a .edu root domain was established to accommodate future expansion and the creation of additional “child” domains.

 

In order to safely test the new network infrastructure while enabling ongoing access to the GRC’s services, ConceptSolution’s technical team established an on-site, simulated network laboratory.  In a lab environment, technicians were able to set up and isolate the test network, including network hub, exchange server, file server, routers, root domain, child domain, and workstations.  The lab enabled necessary troubleshooting and preparation for the jump from a Windows NT system directly to a Windows 2003 enterprise. 

 

“No one at TECOM had ever attempted such a complex task before so we were dealing with many unknowns,” said Satch Bridenbaugh, Anvicom program manager, and the information systems coordinator for the .edu project.  “Maintaining the integrity of and access to the existing network resources was a major concern.  The lab provided a protected environment for testing and debugging, while the GRC went about its usual, day-to-day business.”

 

Results

On October 30, 2003, the new .edu domain (www.usmcu.edu) was “live,” and Phase 1 was completed on-schedule.  The new .edu network configuration provided commercial connectivity (routers, switches, firewall) and enhanced network services (Windows 2000 and MS Exchange servers), with superior performance and an estimated average cost-savings over NMCI of more than $323,000 per year for the first four years.

 

In addition to dollar savings, the new domain provided incredible gains in productivity.  “If a vendor in Utah needed to access one of GRC’s databases, they had to call Quantico and ask someone there to do the search for them.  Then the person on-site, literally, would have to read the information to the vendor directly off their screen,” said J Medina, Anvicom senior systems administrator. “Tasks that once took two weeks, now may take just two days.”

 

Since “go live” of the .edu domain in 2003, ConceptSolutions’ technical team has worked to bring online the following .edu benefits for the GRC and its patrons:

 

         Significantly enhanced Internet access for MCU faculty, staff, students and other GRC patrons, improving or enabling research, distance learning, streaming media and Web-casting of events

         Office Automation for GRC staff

         Patron access to commercial e-content databases supporting MCU curricula, including Jane’s and Lexis-Nexis

         Public and USMC access to the GRC HORIZON Integrated Library System (ILS) and GRC Electronic Archives (ISYS)

         Public access to the GRC Visual Information Resources

         External access to GRC systems for vendor maintenance and support

         Web-based email access for patrons and conference attendees

         .edu email for MCU staff and students (account only)

         Access to a known, reliable network for Institutional Effectiveness/Institutional Research (IE/IR) surveys.

 

By implementing the more flexible and scalable.edu domain solution instead of NMCI, ConceptSolutions fortified the GRC with the right technology to fulfill its ongoing mission as the Marine Corps’ central research facility.  The successful migration also provided a model for other Marine Corps Commands planning to upgrade their information technology infrastructures.  “Our new .edu domain enables communications and research to happen like never before,” said Dr. Sanftleben.  “Without a migration to .edu, we knew we couldn’t go that next step – to provide a reliable information portal where our staff and patrons can access all library resources from anywhere in the world.”

 

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For more information, contact:  Scott Beller @ 202-365-5234

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