Research Machines Plc and ITL Information Technology Plc beat off competition from IBM and DEC to secure the Department of Education & Science’s contract for its recently launched computer network. The two British companies offered a network for UKP500,000 whereas IBM and DEC swore respectively that the cheapest network would cost UKP1.5m and UKP1.2m. The […]
Research Machines Plc and ITL Information Technology Plc beat off competition from IBM and DEC to secure the Department of Education & Science’s contract for its recently launched computer network. The two British companies offered a network for UKP500,000 whereas IBM and DEC swore respectively that the cheapest network would cost UKP1.5m and UKP1.2m. The Department’s network forms the basis of the Office Systems Strategy developed for it by management consultants Butler Cox & Partners and is the Central Government’s largest microcomputer network. The strategy was then handed over to BIS Applied Systems to study which type of data network would suit the cabling infrastructure and application needs of the multi-vendor environment in which the Department operates. BIS suggested that an Ethernet Local Area Network would be the most cost-effective and flexible system. Last February the Central Computer & Telecommunications Agency issued the Operational Requirements to provide the hardware, software, mail servers and all cabling. The contract was won by ITL working closely with Research Machines, which had previously provided the Department with 600 AX-286 IBM AT-alikes (CI No 1,130). The network’s backbone is a standard baseband Ethernet configuration running throughout the Department’s headquarters over Waterloo Station. Thin wire segments are connected to the backbone via multi-port repeaters and transceivers, and each MS DOS micro has an on-board transceiver to link to Ethernet, using Research Machines’ own 16-bit interface cards and eight network servers. The system’s software comes from Novell Inc in conjunction with Network Courier, offering a menu-driven user interface and electronic mail which can hot key between applications. Novell also provided the communications software to mainframe and minicomputer systems as well as for wide area networks over X25. There is also a CO3 gateway connecting the system to the ICL mainframe at Darlington, while an asynchronous gateway gives access to the existing ITL LocalNet 2000 broadband service. Network management, control and security are provided by a combination of Novell NetWare facilities and a dedicated Ethernet monitor and analyser. This entire system, including the MS-DOS boxes, cost the Department UKP2m and purports to be user-friendly to the senior and middle-management levels of administrative personnel for whom it is designed. The procurement coincides with the launch of the Education Reform Bill and users will primarily use the system to draft, circulate, review and amend documents, speeches, policy papers and briefings for ministers. Despite John Butcher, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State’s comment that the Department’s civil servants had taken to the system like ducks to water, user take-up for the system is optional and so far it has proved far more popular with middle managers that don’t have secretaries than with the senior echelons at Elizabeth House, that do. Nevertheless, Butcher said the system offered a lesson for Whitehall in the cost-effective and user-friendly way information technology could be used for policy-making, and other Central Government procurements for departmental networks are in the air.