Marine Corps seeks bids on major computer contract

The Marine Corps is in the midst of a procurement valued at about $150 million for a mix of more than 80,000 laptop, desktop, and tablet computers and servers for users outside the Navy Marine Corps Intranet, including those in tactical units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The procurement will make it easier for users to choose from a variety of computer resources that can be configured to their needs and shipped quickly, Marine officials said. Vendors said the Marines will gain economies of scale and lower prices by bundling all these requirements into one contract.

The Marine Corps Common Hardware Suite (MCHS) is intended to provide common computing platforms for the 20 percent to 30 percent of Marine units not connected to NMCI, said Ken Beutel, program manager for computing platforms and service at the Marine Corps Systems Command.

Steve Cabrian, information technology infrastructure team lead at the command, said the non-NMCI components include Marine units operating in Europe and South Korea, battlefield systems such as the Advanced Field Artillery Targeting and Direction System, and Command and Control PC, which provides access to a tactical common operational picture on a Windows laptop. Cabrian estimated that deployed units require about 40,000 laptop and desktop computers.

The procurement is a follow-on to a similar hardware buy in 2003 and is intended to provide a wide range of computing options, said Jodie Shifflett, the MCHS contracting officer. The Marines intend to award four blanket purchase agreements to equipment manufacturers or their authorized resellers and one to a small business under MCHS.

The shopping list includes 57,000 laptops with a variety of configurations, including standard commercial products and rugged systems; 18,000 PCs, including 6,000 high-powered models; 5,860 servers in enterprise, blade rack mount and deployable configurations; and 3,000 tablet PCs. Shifflett emphasized these were estimated quantities.

Beutel said some of the servers would go to standard data centers housed in office buildings, but he quickly added that a data center could be a couple of servers in transit cases set up in a tent in theater. He said that while the MCHS procurement calls for rugged laptops and servers beefed up to operate in a tactical environment, the Marines have found that plain commercial hardware has stood up surprisingly well to the heat, dust and dirt of Iraq.

MCHS has attracted a wide range of interested bidders who attended an industry day last month. Resellers and manufacturers there included Apptis, CDW-Government, Dell, GTSI, Hewlett-Packard, General Dynamics Itronix and Panasonic. These companies either did not return calls from Government Executive or declined to comment.

Bill Vass, president and chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems Federal, did not shy away from throwing his company's hat in the ring. Aside from laptops, he said, the company has "an across-the-board" interest, especially in the potential to replace some of the desktops with thin clients that use a central server.

Sun, Vass said, can offer an innovative approach to the MCHS blade server requirement, with a chassis that can accept a snap-in server from any company that makes an industry standard server. The company plans to bid on MCHS through a partner, which Vass declined to identify.

Polly Perregaux, vice president of sales for Advanced Military Technology, which is vying for the MCHS small business award, estimates the total value of the contract at $150 million to $160 million. Her company plans to bid its own products, including laptops, and is eyeing a partnership with Getac, which manufactures a line of rugged laptops and tablet PCs.

The deadline for bids is Feb. 6, but Shifflett expects that date to slip. She declined to provide a target date for the contract award.

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