FBI to Duh! itself, again

FBI to Duh! itself, again

Summary: since they don'thave the software figured out they assume Wintel is the answer, get the people, hardware,and operating system licences to go with that, and then discover they're on a rockslide that canonly go one way - downhill.

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TOPICS: Government US
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I saw a ZDNet report last week quoting Reuters about a $105 million dollar computer project write-off at the FBI. Here's the key bit:

The FBI has designed a new computer system to replace a failed $170 million one aimed at helping agents share information but it will not be ready for use until the end of 2006, the FBI director said Tuesday.

You know what the most critical error was in the one they wrote off? The Inspector General's Audit report cites all the usual suspects, but missed the fundamental problem completely. What killed that project's hope of success right from the beginning was the simple fact that they hired the people and bought the hardware before figuring out what the software was supposed to do.

You know how well they're going to do this time? You guessed it, they've got the architecture before the software again.

You'd think organizations would learn, but they don't -and the budgeting process doesn't help the people who do. Basically, it's almost always easier to get hardware approvals through for the fiscal year right after disasters, start-ups, or major re-organizations, so a lot of these guys end up with hardware budgets they have to commit long before they know anything about the software they're going to need.

What you get out of that is exactly what happened -and will happen again- at the FBI: since they don't have the software figured out they assume Wintel is the answer, get the people, hardware, and operating system licences to go with that, and then discover they're on a rockslide that can only go one way - downhill.

Want some free advice, Mr. Mueller? Get past your preconceptions. Most of your problems are coming from your need to blend real time integration with security in an environment with 30,000 or so Wintel PCs. Learn something from your failures: TV and advertising to the contrary, it can't be done without making the system useless. So go ask Bill Voss for a tour of Sun's national data center and have him show you how putting a Sun Ray on every desk could give you a successful project in as little as six to eight months -complete with direct Linux and Solaris laptop integration and a price tag that's likely to be 60% less than what you hope this round with the client-server money machine is going to cost the taxpayer. And, no it's not the bucks that are important here; what's most valuable to you is that the security and the real-time integration your people can't deliver on the PC are automatic, while most of the software you've been trying to invent is already there.

Topic: Government US

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8 comments
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  • If you lived in a hole

    and worked on your Win98, Pentium II machine everyday, and THEN were asked what would you like to buy for replacements - what would you say? ANYTHING is better - right?

    Thin client solutions are a good bet in this environment. So is a Mac mini solution. My whole career has been involved with *NIX computers, and their ability to use SERVED software. By NOT having to install applications on EVERY MACHINE, Company "F" has enjoyed much cost savings with its Sun and HP workstations. You can load each machine with the same "image", and add new software on server boxes - without touching the clients. This works as well as thin client technology, and gives you MUCH better graphics and speed.
    Roger Ramjet
    • I Agree

      You're right.

      For security, they should get away from the biggest hacker
      target.

      For simplicity, they should use server applications.

      Apple's Netboot ability would enable the FBI to control ALL their
      computers.

      Put in a couple of XServes per building, Netboot all the
      individual Macs. Everybody using the same disk image.

      And of course, if you want a hacker-resistant platform...
      Jkirk3279
  • America is ruled by it's big corporations...

    Hence good common sense like a Sun/Linux solution won't happen. Too many lobbyists whose backers have a vested interest in a cash cow system that doesn't work... Meanwhile China and India are laughing (and developing) their way into world IT dominance.
    Kamikaze_Ohka
  • This author is an Oxymoron

    He starts the report by stating everyone makes the same mistake and buys all the hardware and equipment before they know what the software needs to do.

    Then he states the FBI should have bought all Sun hardware and they would have been fine. However, he doesn't know what the software needs to do himself. Can he spell Oxymoron?

    Maybe any sort of desktop is a mistake. Maybe they all need PDA's as they are in the field so much. Maybe some of the groups don't even need search capabilities. Didn't think of that did you brainiac?.

    Since he can't follow his own advice, here's mine. Free of charge no less.

    Go back to the basics. Make sure you can make your bed, brush your teeth, and use the restrooms hygenically. When you have mastered those arts MAYBE YOU CAN GIVE ADVICE.
    coffeyja
    • LOL - Hit the nail on its head!

      Dude you certainly slammed the door hard on this bloke. A careful inspection of his article and the poor chap might be given a bit of room to manoevre. He basically talks about a Sun's Presentation that convinces everyone to put a Sun Ray on the desk which would help develop a cost-effective, successful and secure project in as less as six months, hardware included!

      Another topic he talks about is "need to blend real time integration with security in an environment with 30,000 or so Wintel PCs" - you can't blame the author for feeling that projects developed on Unix-Sun combine is a lot more secure than Wintel systems.

      But putting forth a solution before he has even completely stated(presuming he has studied the requirements)the objectives is plain dumb. He could do good by reading the third paragraph of his own article. ;) Talk about the pot calling the kettle black eh?
      polax@...
    • Some truth to your argument

      I think you're partially right, and this is a problem with a lot of the stuff I find interesting, and therefore write about. I did read both the IG's report and some SAIC requirements materials, but all that really made clear was that they don't know the details of what they want - so I don't either.

      However... part of what their eforts made very clear was that they spent a good deal of time and effort (my guess > 80% of their work) thrashing around with things Unix people like me take for granted - things like agent x doesn't use the official controlled vocabulary to describe a hunch about person y; some other agent misses the link because she does use the proper vocabulary. Well, you know, BRS search on BSD beat that in the 80s -but not on the PC (in fact, did you know that opentext (a PC product) started as a search negine metadesign by a guy who now works for Sun?)

      More directly, a lot of the problems in their software design are deeply familiar to me because of their similarity to a run in I had with a social servers system aimed at serving child care workers. THousands of pages of documentation, several hundred million in development and related work, and they missed the one thing the people in the field cared about: it failed because it failed to answer the question: "should I take a cop with me, when visiting the child's home?"

      So, yes I think you make a valid point; but I also think I know enough to stand by my argument.
      murph_z
      • Oops! and oh, oops again

        1) that should have been "Social services", not
        "social servers" ; and,

        2) the requirements stuff I looked at didn't come to me as a SAIC document - I was thinking about them as the contractors when I wrote that, but it's not their doc.

        Sorry about the error -and the confusion.
        murph_z
  • SOA: Write to protocols

    If they chose to embrace SOA and write to protocols (e.g. Web services) instead of a particular vendor's environment, the issue of whether they bought the HW first or last would soon become pretty much irrelevant.
    IT Makes Sense