Navy on schedule for full transition to NGEN contract at end of this month

It’s been a very long road, but within the next few weeks, the Navy says it will finally finish its transition to a new operating structure for its enterprise IT network, completing the migration all of its 300,000 users to a contract structure known as NGEN.

From a Navy IT user’s perspective, there’s nothing magical about the Sept. 30 date when the Navy says all of its users will have moved from the legacy Navy Marine Corps Intranet contract onto NGEN. NMCI will still be NMCI — the main difference for now is that the Navy, and not HP, will own the network. But from there, the Navy will able to be able to begin making incremental improvements to the network.

“The tech refresh plan will do two things for the network. It replaces old stuff, but it’s the pathway to modernize the network as well,” said Denby Starling, HP’s vice president for Navy accounts. “You may have a capability that you decide is important to have that may or may not be supported by the equipment on the network. But what we thought was critical during the transition of the network was that the fleet didn’t see any degradation in the service we were delivering. For the average guy in the fleet, it should be a nonevent for them.”

Under the NGEN contract, HP will continue to handle day-to-day operations for the Navy’s portion of the network. The Marine Corps converted its portion of the network to a government-owned, government-operated model last summer.

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Beyond tech refresh, as the Navy nears the end of what’s been one of the government’s most complicated IT acquisition projects in history, it’s looking ahead to what’s next after it retakes full ownership of the vast enterprise network it had outsourced entirely to HP for more than a decade. Upcoming tasks include introducing new mobile devices to the network, bringing more of the Navy’s legacy networks into the NGEN fold and improving Navy’s overall cybersecurity posture.

For instance, now that the Navy has a contract structure that gives it much more control over its networks, it would like to begin bringing more of the service’s IT operations into the centrally-managed enterprise. That includes huge networks like OneNet, which serves about 30,000 mostly overseas users, but was never brought under the NMCI umbrella when the Navy first consolidated its networks in 2001.

“We’re working very hard at how we incorporate the OCONUS network fully into a business model like NGEN,” said Capt. Michael Abreau, the program manager for the Navy’s enterprise networks. “We want to make a global network infrastructure that’s scalable, that’s reliable, that’s cost-efficient.”

Some Navy enclaves not part of NMCI

And while the Navy proudly proclaims that its network still stands as the government’s biggest IT enterprise, there are still small Navy enclaves even within the continental U.S. that were never absorbed into NMCI. Abreau said he wants those operations to come into the fold as well, but there’s still a lot of work to be done on that front.

“One of the biggest things we’ve had to do over the years as we incorporated legacy networks over the year has been to understand what those networks are, all the components of the networks, all of the version control and standardization and state of affairs, so we have to evaluate all of those networks and compare them to the requirements on NGEN and see if there’s a delta,” Abreau said. “If there is, we have to bring that network up to standards, both security and technically, before it’s allowed to come in and order services under the NGEN contract.”

The process of moving the Navy’s huge network from one contract construct to another has meant that some of the service’s IT modernization priorities have been put on hold, but once the transition is completed, Abreau says he intends to get to work on introducing new capabilities to the network, including the introduction of more modern mobile devices.

“We’re very close to moving forward on our plan for more mobile devices in the Navy environment. We’re going to introduce Android and iPhone devices,” he said. “We’re not moving away from BlackBerry so much as we’re introducing new devices that have been approved by (the Defense Information Systems Agency) to more closely reflect commercial market demand. That’s a big enabler for the Navy, to be more mobile, more effective, more productive.”

Abreau said Navy customers will be able to order Android and Apple devices by the end of this calendar year. But the Navy does not intend to make use of the DoD-wide mobility infrastructure the DISA is already building, including a centralized mobile device management solution and mobile apps store. Instead, the service will go its own way, at least for now.

“That DISA offering is fantastic for a lot of the DoD, but within the Navy infrastructure, that solution would require a technical interface that would require some engineering to overcome, both from an email and holistic network infrastructure perspective,” he said. “We believe the best path forward is to instantiate mobile offerings within the Navy infrastructure that allow us better control, better security and version control, and integrates holistically within our network fabric and our infrastructure.”

Once the Navy fully transitions to the NGEN contract, it believes it will start saving about $20 million per month compared to what it had been paying HP under the legacy NMCI contract, mostly because the pricing arrangements it arrived at for NGEN were the product of a rigorous competition between two teams of vendors.

One of the Navy’s main objectives in transitioning to NGEN was to achieve more transparency on what it was paying for individual IT services. In theory, it now has the ability to break the contract apart into 38 different segments and competitively bid each one if it suspected it could get a better deal on, for example, email services.

But for now, even though the Navy now owns the network, HP still operates all of it. The firm won a contract last year that allows the service to continue that relationship for up to three more years.

And Abreau says it’s going to be a while before his service starts recompeting different segments of the contract.

“Right now, we’re still in the analysis phase of how we would do that,” he said. “What we really need to do from my perspective is get fully instantiated on NGEN, get some run time on the network and learn some lessons from some sort of steady-state time period over the next year, and then evaluate what pieces of the network services are able to be competed for business reasons. My message to senior leadership has been we want to do smart things to ensure we do things with rigor and discipline in a controlled manner. Because introducing new players for pieces of the network introduces some level of risk as well. It’s important that we take that into account and balance that risk with the perceived gain of doing that.”

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