With Internet commerce and a growing global economy, network operating systems are as critical to the nation's economy as highways or water pipes. Unlike roads, though, there are no uniform construction standards or methods.
As a result, government agencies face a formidable array of questions and decisions. Should their networks run on UNIX, NetWare, Windows NT or a newcomer, such as Linux? And what should be the role of government in shaping the future network operating environment?
Microsoft Windows operating systems and applications are so pervasive that they are the de facto standard for government, business and home computing. The next major release, Windows NT 5.0 -- to be called Windows 2000 -- positions Microsoft to capture the network operating system market as well.
Saturating the Market
"Windows NT was first released five years ago as a specialized operating system for technical and business needs," said Jim Allchin, Microsoft's senior vice president of the Personal and Business System Group. "Windows NT will be the basis for all Microsoft PC operating systems, from consumer products to the highest-performance servers."
Microsoft will market a desktop version and three server versions.
At press time, a third beta version of Windows 2000 was scheduled for an April release, and Microsoft said desktop and server versions of Windows 2000 -- including Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server, Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server -- will be available in October.
As an operating system, NT appears to have a major advantage: supports all client/server solutions, from file and print services to network infrastructure and management application services. Microsoft has gained momentum by integrating applications and the OS, bridging the once-dissimilar worlds of desktop and server.
"It's all about cost," said Kevin McNeilly, associate director for the Arizona Telemedicine Program. "Typically, NT base workstations are less expensive than UNIX workstations. And the other factor is the availability of applications, widely available word processing, office tools -- most of those applications are available for Windows but not necessarily for UNIX."
Serving the Law
Law enforcement agencies in Oakland County, Mich., are using an NT-based computer-assisted dispatching system called the Court and Law Enforcement Management Information System (CLEMIS) to access criminal background information such as mug shots, crime-scene photos and case information from emergency vehicles and police cruisers.
According to Joe Sullivan, CLEMIS project team manager, the goal is to have a criminal justice database accessible to police officers in the field. The CLEMIS mobile data computer system functions on cellular digital packet data. It includes a Printrak system that fully interfaces with GIS and incorporates features such as open query to allow police officers access to such databases as NCIC and the jail management system.
Security and privacy are important issues for government agencies. Smart cards can provide identification, authentication and nonrepudiation for secure transactions.
NT supports secure login by smart card, which requires a card and a PIN. "That allows government agencies to provide controlled access to their Web information," said Stuart Vaet, product marketing manager of Spyrus, a security company based in Santa Clara, Calif.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting some pilots using Spyrus' PKI product, along with Netscape commercial Web products for secure access to Web site information for law enforcement.
Yuma State Prison, in Yuma, Ariz., has installed telemedicine to reduce health-care costs and the risk of escape. According to Joseph Scalzo, telemedicine program manager of the Arizona Department of Corrections, "In order to break even -- and that includes all personal charges, T1 rental and equipment, etc. -- we have to do nine cases a month. The system has been in operation about a year and has performed over a hundred cases."
The system is part of a statewide network directed by the University of Arizona's Health and Science Department.
The system's "store and forward" modality runs on NT, allowing a file to be prepared and electronically sent to the university. The system can connect to any type of electronic scope and allows users to scan in documents and X-rays. Text can be typed in manually or scanned with a camera for others to review.
"Dermatology is very popular for us, and you take several pictures of the lesion, and you can create an electronic file and dictate and create a voice file," Scalzo said. "We have the ability to attach a video file into it. And all [pictures] are sent electronically. On the other side they can open up that file and view the word processor and click to activate voice or video."
Scalzo also praised the interactive mode. "The system provides realtime interactive video. The university sets a schedule when the various specialties are available, and then we ... notify them and will be booked into that segment."
According to the Arizona Telemedicine Program's McNeilly, the video quality is very good. "We allocate 768Kbs for video conferencing through the ATM network and it is well-suited for medical applications."
A Fort Lauderdale, Fla., detective used DNA evidence from 12-year-old blood samples to catch a killer in a 1986 murder case. Back in 1986, DNA typing was unavailable and only recently has a reliable database been created by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
A blood sample, when analyzed, led investigators to Scott Edward Williams, who was serving a two-year prison sentence for sexual assault. When confronted with the DNA evidence, Williams confessed to the murder.
The Florida DNA Database, which runs on NT, is part of an FBI communications network and provides secure voice and encrypted data.
"It is working great for us," said David Koffman, supervisor of the DNA database. "In our state, we have had 34 percent of the nation's matches. We have about 2,800 forensic DNA profiles -- profiles developed from crime scenes -- and have 53,000 convicted offenders who had their DNA profile developed. We have had 168 hits and we aided over 250 investigations."
Local laboratories send their data to state labs and request searches. Afterward, state labs execute their uploads and process them, then route the messages back to the local lab as e-mail. The process usually takes about 15 minutes to upload and another 45 minutes to run the search.
NT just got a boost with announcements by Silicon Graphics and IBM that they will support NT with high-end hardware. Also, Intel is shipping its new Pentium III chip, and AMD, Intel's chief rival in the chip industry, will release the K7, a 500-MHz server and workstation chip.
NT is getting widespread support from industry-leading developers. IBM, Unisys, Compaq Computer Corp., Data General and Hewlett-Packard are committing to 99.9 percent availability for the Microsoft Windows NT server network operating system version 4.0. These announcements broaden customer choice for Windows NT Server-based systems.
Some industry leaders are providing support for both NT and UNIX operating environments. HP, for example, offers a UNIX product and an NT product for application hosting. It appears that NT, in many instances, will be deployed in conjunction with UNIX systems as a single solution, offering customers the benefits of both platforms.
UNIX has long been the preferred NOS for delivering services not file-and-print related. UNIX's strong multitasking and protected memory support make it well-suited to application servers. Windows NT, meanwhile, presents itself as an NOS of all trades. In fact, NT hopes to occupy space in both markets.
UNIX continues to dominate as the platform of choice for enterprise-scale, mission-critical and high-capacity applications. But NT is closing in, lending credence to increasingly powerful and inexpensive hardware.
According to industry experts, NT will not replace UNIX at the high end of application serving, but will take away a significant portion of the midlevel.
Novell Ready to Rumble
Novell's NetWare tops the list for file-and-print services, providing many of the tools that experienced network administrators rely on, such as a flexible file compression system, user-disk quotas and the ability to load and unload protocols, network adapters and disks without rebooting.
In March, Novell announced the latest version of its enterprise directory, targeted to high-end customers. Novell Directory Service (NDS) V8 enables users to better manage and track users on an organization's network. Novell said NDS V8 can store and manage millions more users, applications, network devices and data than earlier versions of NDS or competitors' products.
Fast-growing demand for the free Linux software might signal an important new threat to Microsoft. IBM formally announced plans to start selling computers that come loaded with Linux, a version of the UNIX operating system used by many companies for such tasks as running networks of smaller computers. The move is widely viewed as a major endorsement of the new software, and it came after similar moves by Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Graphics.
Garden Grove, Calif., population 153,000, is running its servers entirely on Red Hat Linux. According to Garden Grove Network Manager Robert Shingledecker, all city applications -- financial systems to business licenses, police record management, fire inspections, and more -- run on a database driven by Linux.