| When it came time to buy
the next-generation data storage system for the Mission
Control Center at Johnson Space Center, we asked our contractor
who provides Control Center support to come up with a
solution that would consolidate three current storage
systems, as well as provide additional capability and
functionality -- all without spending vast amounts of
Eventually, the contractor's report arrived
at my office. To my great disappointment, the proposed
system came along with a multi-million dollar price
tag. And, even more disappointing, the system relied
on the same technology we already had in place and wouldn't
deliver much additional functionality. It was clear
that we needed to come up with a better solution—the
best we could buy. But how do you buy the best technology,
when you don't even know what technology is out there?
Technology changes often and staying aware of the latest
technological developments is always a challenge. In
this case, we needed to invest in an in-depth evaluation
of potential solutions.
I realized that we had to learn first-hand to be better
buyers, so I came up with the idea of inviting storage
area network vendors to come on site and show us their
capabilities and products. I hoped that by "test driving"
the latest, greatest technology, our civil servants would
be smarter buyers when it came time to choose a system.
about $3 million, we
spent $750,000 on a
state-of-the-art system ideally suited to meet our
We cleared out two rooms, reached agreements with several
companies, and then, one-by-one, put their storage systems
through the paces that would enable them to be installed
at Mission Control -- in essence, testing out a series
of prototypes of the system we hoped to acquire.
Why would a company expend their own resources to temporarily
install more than a million dollars of equipment at
our technology lab? It allowed them to say that they
had helped create a Mission Control Center prototype,
and to tell potential clients that NASA was evaluating
Our prototype project allowed us to better understand
our requirements, before investing in a system. One of
the things we learned about was clustering capabilities
that would enable us to better support the Space Station's
24-hour operation. We had to have a storage system that
could be reconfigured to a reduced environment so that
the rest of the Control Center could be updated. We needed
to be able to quickly move from one configuration to another,
but didn't know how we could reduce the four hours required
to do this. We discovered a clustering capability associated
with some of the systems we tested that provided that
capability and reduced the time dramatically.
|Clouds form the
backdrop for the connected Zarya and Unity modules
after their 1998 release from the Space Shuttle
Endeavour's cargo bay.
While our people were brought up to speed on the latest
technologies available, the companies got a heads-up
on our requirements. We used the prototypes to learn,
and we told the companies that NASA and its contractor
support would create the RFP that would go out for the
new storage system based on what we had learned. We
couldn't promise them anything, but it would give them
a chance to see how their systems could be adapted to
work in our particular environment. As it turned out,
one of them did get work from the Mission Control Center
contractor using the prototype concept they presented
In the end, NASA got a better system for less money than
had been thought possible. Instead of spending about $3
million, we spent $750,000 on a state-of-the-art system
ideally suited to meet our configuration requirements.
And in the process, we became smarter customers and smarter
buyers of new technology.
|I hoped that
by "test driving" the latest, greatest technology,
our civil servants would be smarter buyers when
it came time to choose a system.
- Prototyping can be a key management and communication
tool. Prototypes can increase the active participation
of users in project definition.
- Using the products of different vendors allows the
user to refine his or her objectives.
What would it take on your projects to be a smarter
years ago, Steven A. Gonzalez's story, "It's
All About Passion" (ASK 2), described founding
the Qualification and Utilization for Electronics
Systems Technology (QUEST) lab with his fellow engineers
at Johnson Space Center. The QUEST group sought
to reinvigorate their passion for work by mapping
out a path to NASA's future. About the lab's founding
ideals, Gonzalez wrote, "The farthest reaches of
the galaxy would forever be expanding as long as
we had the imagination to see a way there.... Our
mission, as we saw it, was to come up with a plan
to achieve the infrastructure and technology that
would make this vision a reality."
serves as Chief of the Operations Research &
Strategic Development Branch at Johnson, and his
team continues to support the QUEST vision. Now
called the Quest Innovations Lab and under the
leadership of Tony Bruins, the group partners
with private industry to bring cutting-edge technology
to NASA at low cost.