U.S. Navy orders Bill Gates to install SPARC/Solaris with Sun Rays

Sun Rays aren't actually thin clients but the conclusion is obvious anyway: a shipyard, in which Bill Gates invested a bunch of money, will be installing SPARC/Solaris systems with Sun Rays

Between now and Dec 30th, inclusive, I plan to blog only every second work day unless, of course, something of unusual interest crops up.

In keeping with Mr. Editor Person's interest in top ten lists, the six entries this will produce will have a common theme: "2005: the missing headlines".

Since I only have a few picked out, some suggestions would be welcome. Here are the rules:

  1. the headline has to be true and relevant to IT
  2. and everything you would assume from the headline has to be false.

Now, for example, my headline today is really pretty cool because it's completely true on the surface -but not quite so if you look a bit more closely.

Here's the deal:

  • On February 20, 2000 Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) used his Cascade Investment LLC to buy 8% of Newport News Shipbuilding, a group that makes surface ships for the navy.

     

  • last week, Bob Brewin, writing for FCW.com under the title Navy opts for thin-client systems on-board ships reported:

     

    Bob Stephenson, chief technology officer for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence operations at Spawar, said the Navy plans to use the thin-client systems from Sun Microsystems on all major surface ships in the fleet.

    Thin clients will be installed on 160 vessels, Stephenson said.

Sun Rays aren't actually thin clients but the conclusion is obvious anyway: a shipyard, in which Bill Gates invested a bunch of money, will be installing SPARC/Solaris systems with Sun Rays - as promised in my headline.

Unfortunately, there's a lot more to this story, some of it very serious. Fundamentally the Newport News purchase seems to have been part of a backroom deal done to clean up some of the consequences of another dirty deal entirely: done during the spring of 1997 to get Windows NT into the Navy.

Here's most of a report on one consequence of that effort:

 

The Aegis missile cruiser, USS Yorktown, experienced some software glitches with its new PC systems running Windows NT last year. To be exact, the U.S. Navy had to tow the ship back to port.

The ship was part of a pilot program to install PCs to reduce manpower, maintenance and costs. However last September, after some "bad data" was fed into the system, the ship was crippled during maneuvers because of massive system failures.

According to Government Computer News, a database overflow caused the ship's propulsion system to fail. "We are putting equipment in the engine room that we cannot maintain and, when it fails, results in a critical failure," said Anthony DiGiorgio, a civilian engineer with the Atlantic Fleet Technical Support Center in Norfolk.

According to DiGiorgio, it took two days of pier-side maintenance to fix the problem. In a GCN interview, DiGiorgio was critical of using Windows NT on a Navy ship. DiGiorgio, who has worked on Navy ships for the past 26 years said, "Using Windows NT, which is known to have some failure modes, on a warship is similar to hoping that luck will be in our favor."

The military has typically relied on UNIX based systems for computing, however in March of 1997, both Pacific and Atlantic fleets selected NT 4.0 as the standard OS for both networks and PCs. Ron Redman, deputy technical director of the Fleet Introduction Division of the Aegis Program Executive Office, said there have been numerous software failures associated with NT aboard the Yorktown.

Bottom line: it took the Navy five years to get back to the future, but on the positive side it didn't takes Gates that long to get out: he more than doubled his money when Northrop Grumman bought Newport News for about $2.6 billion in 2001.

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