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Break the info-sharing barrier.

BREAK THE INFO-SHARING BARRIER

Coin is not made of gold, but it is definitely a precious medium of exchange.

The Corporate Office Interconnectivity Network at Grumman Corp., Bethpage, N.Y.--an E-mail "supernetwork" composed of dissimilar E-mail systems--has proved and reproved its value as an open channel for information.

The existing E-mail networks had value in themselves, but COIN is a gestalt in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Not Difficult

The use of E-mail to make contacts and share information is often constrained in large corporations by multiple uninteroperable native networks installed during the heyday of departmental systems.

In a continuing drive to network computer facilities corporatewide in order to maximize inforamtion sharing and facilitate the contacting process, Grunman placed many of its native E-mail networks on a "supernetwork."

COIN ties together five native office/E-mail networks and will later tie together eight--both locally and remotely.

COIN was made urgent by a reorganization of Grumman from two divisions to 10.

New communications channels were needed to serve the reconfigured corporation.

Not only did the company need more, and more timely, information-sharing in the usual course of business, it sought to make its other corporatewide networks more productive by having E-mail serve as a complementary information channel.

Connecting multi-vendor E-mail networks in not particularly difficult--at least by the method Grumman chose--but neither is it particularly common.

It requires above all, a commitment by management.

Some coporate managements believe the expense is too high, the effort too time-consuming, the benefits too small.

At Grumman, where management backed the project, the cost was found to be manageable, the time relatively fast, the input not intensive, the benefits well worth the effort.

The company supplying the network distribution/translation software that Grumman employs--SoftSwitch Inc., Wayne, Pa.--has sold its programs mainly to top Fortune 200 Companies.

This indicates that other large Fortune 500 corporations (and smaller companies) are not exactly rushing forward to connect their E-mail networks.

Or if they are, they may be proceeding in excessively expensive and time-consuming ways, connecting native systems to native systems, for example, rather than connecting all systems to a single networking hub, which is what we're doing.

Whether there are two native networks to connect or 10, the benefits are there if the commitment is made and networking issues are simplified.

Multiple Systems

Grumman Corp. is a Fortune 200 aerospace and electronics manufacturer which includes among its divisions Grumman Data Systems, a major integrator of large-scale information systems for government and industry.

Worldwide, Grumman has 25,000 employees.

Most are on Long Island, where the company has facilities in Bethpage, Woodbury, Holtsville, Great River, and other locations.

Beyond Long Island, we have offices across the nation and major satellite facilities in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and several other states.

Connecting these facilities are networks from such vendors as Wang, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and DEC.

Over these networks operate many proprietary networks that support management, business operations, engineering, and R&D.

Grumman has eight native E-mail networks with significant numbers of users.

A Wang office network based on 35 minicomputers serves 1500 users.

An IBM Profs network serves 1200 users.

Hewlett-Packard's Desk-Manager, supported by an H-P 3000 computer, has 150 users.

DEC's All-in-1 has 350 users and DEC VMS Mail has 2000 users supported by Micro-VAX IIs at the low end through a DEC 8700 at the high end.

Other Grumman E-mail networks include a PC LAN with 3Com's 3+ Mail (made up of 350 users) and a UNIX-based network.

The inability to distribute E-mail across heterogenous networks is both a roadblock and an expense.

Minutes, Not Days

Interoffice mail can take two days> E-mail (if available), three minutes.

If each of 2500 employees with heterogenous E-mail networks had to resort to interoffice mail, and sent one memo to five other employees, the cost in paper, preparation, labeling, and transporting would be perhaps $2000.

Telephone-tagging, made necessary if E-mail systems are not intercommunicable, can take hours, even days.

Multi-site project teams are hampered in their daily communications by these substitutes for a viable E-mail system.

At Grumman, more corporatewide information applications have been put into operation in recent years, in part to tie together the divisional structure.

These systems are being used more and more frequently as people realize their advantages.

Among these applications are an Executive Information System for all of Grumman Corp., and business operations and proposal systems used by Grumman Data Systems.

Information from further afield than these networks allowed was still limited.

In this context, a more capable, interoperable E-mail network would be a valuable utility complementing the existing information networks.

In June 1987, the decision was made to start on COIN, beginning with the four major native E-mail systems of Wang, IBM, H-P, and DEC.

The task was given to Grumman Data Systems, which performs the major part of Grumman Corp.'s systems integration.

Hub Configuration

Grumman's multi-vendor office networks provide not only E-mail but also word processing and capabilities such as calendaring.

The goal of COIN was to distribute and translate E-mail across the various native systems by the most direct and economical means in regard to hardware, software, development, and installation.

As part of the networking, applications such as procurement and distribution of reports could be added.

At least three approaches were possible:

* System-to-system connection using multi-vendor hardware and software from the native system vendors.

* In-house coding and purchased hardware to achieve the same result.

* A single off-the-shelf software program combined with a hub configuration for connecting the diverse networks in an available MVS operating environment.

Connecting eight networks system-to-system would have created 64 connections--a maze of cabling and programs.

Furthermore, using the products of each vendor to make the connections would have left certain functions unfulfilled.

For example, IBM DISOSS would have satisfied E-mail translation but not word-processing translation.

While fully capable of writing the necessary unique code, Grumman Data Systems is as aware as its customers of the need for economy and speed in developing solutions.

Off-the-shelf software and hardware would provide the speed and economy desired.

System-to-system connection was rejected, whether the connections were made by off-the-shelf products or in-house-developed code and off-the-shelf hardware.

The fastest, most economical approach--and therefore the most elegant--was to take each network, whose processors function as hubs, and connect them to a central hub, using a single software program with versions for all the networks.

The program that was found to achieve this result is SoftSwitch's MVS/Central.

This program automatically translates sender formats into a neutral canonical format which it then translates into the recipient's format.

The final configuration (see graphic) is based on an MVS central hub, using an IBM-compatible mainframe that was available for accommodating the E-mail traffic.

The individual office E-mail networks are connected to the central hub by means of cabling and SoftSwitch software.

From the central hub the E-mail supernetwork extends out over many time zones to Grumman remote offices that are connected to the company's Wang, DEC, IBM, and H-P processors.

Thus far the wang, IBM, H-P, DEC, and 3Com E-mail networks have been connected.

In the future, the various PC LANs and other networks will be attached to the central hub.

Some of the smaller networks to be attached to the hub will require intermediate treatment.

For example, the token-ring PC network will require a Network Courier gateway. The workstation network will use a protocol called Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP).

E-mail nicknames used for the individual networks were cancelled and a new naming convention was instituted for the supernetwork, employing the first five letters of a user's last name, followed by the first two letters of the first name.

Robert Smith is the most common name at Grumman. The log-on for that name is SMITHRO.

To handle name duplications, the naming convention allows for an extra space after the ID, for SMITHRO1 and SMITHRO2 for example.

COIN In Operation

The new network handles not only E-mail messages but such documents as budget reports and purchase requisitions.

In operation, when a Wang document is sent to an IBM Profs user, the SoftSwitch software on the Wang network sens the doucment to MVS/Central, which converts it from Wang WP format to SoftSwitch canonical format.

It then converts the canonical format into IBM DCA RFT format and routes the document to the PROFS mail machine for delivery.

A budget report can be generated in Grumman's IMS database and then handed off to COIN for distribution to the appropriate recipients.

Sending a budgetary planning spreadsheet over COIN begins with the on-line data-entry program on the native system, which mails the spreadsheet through the proper sign-off keys to cognizant department representatives.

At each point in the sign-off loop, the spreadsheet is reviewed, edited, and returned through E-mail to the originator.

The edited spreadsheets are reviewed and consolidated and then submitted in final form through e-mail to the corporate budgeting system.

If desired, E-mail messages or documents can be sent to a mass-distribution list over COIN.

Screens on the corporatewide EIS network, or the proposal or business operations networks, can be sent to anyone requesting them over the COIN network.

Queries from the other networks can be sent to COIN users. The effect is to open formerly clogged channels and to dispense and collect information in a more timely fashion.

Telephone tag has been reduced (although no exact figures are available), and so has paper use as well as related mailroom labor.

Quick acceptance and current reliance on COIN is evident from the fact that network breakdowns produce a torrent of complaints from users.

COIN is one example of an ongoing process at Grumman as well as most medium-to-large companies.

Departmental systems are giving way to corporatewide systems that make information more readily available to more employees, in order to achieve maximum effective input to corporate plans and programs.

Corporatewide networks place formally dispersed and frequently unavailable information at the user's fingertips.

For Grumman, and probably for others, E-mail networking is a necessary adjunct to other corporate networks.

It fills in gaps in communications while facilitating the entire communications process.

A network like COIN is not long, hard, or expensive to develop. Sound choices early on can lead, as in the case of COIN, to a simple yet comprehensive solution.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:electronic mail
Author:Galgano, Judy
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1990
Words:1717
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