Navy gets chatty

If you're worried that instant messaging is infiltrating your organisation then take comfort from the fact that the Navy uses it too.

If you’re worried that instant messaging is infiltrating your organisation then take comfort from the fact that the Navy uses it too.

A newly installed instant messaging system helped the New Zealand Navy out of an IT difficulty in the China Sea, says Lieutenant Commander Mike de Ruiter (pictured).

Until this year ship-to-shore communication was limited to voice, plain text and point-to-point file transfer sent via high-frequency signals — either radio or modem — through a satellite link.

But at the beginning of the year the navy rolled out email — Unix Sendmail and Microsoft Exchange — to its three frigates, HMNZS Te Kaha and Te Mana and Canterbury.

It then deployed Lotus SameTime for instant messaging (IM) at Devonport Naval Base and on Te Kaha in July and on Te Mana last month.

IM, which is used by about 10 to 15 users are on each ship and another eight to 10 at the naval base, is mainly used for planning and coordination of operations, but recently Te Kaha had a problem with one of its IT systems while it was in the China Sea. The navy person sent to deal with the hardware fault needed further support and de Ruiter used IM to talk him through assessing the problem.

De Ruiter, the navy’s applications integration team leader, says formal signal traffic, which is prioritised, is still the official means of communication. But high-priority messages in the formal signal system take minutes to be transferred and routine communications can take up to a day.

However, this may change as the navy works out the extent to which it will use email and messaging.

“Currently the position is that it’s not policy and it will not replace official means, but come back in a year’s time and maybe the number of signals will have dropped by 20%. We have to formulate what is appropriate to do via IM and appropriate to stay within the formal system.”

De Ruiter says a major challenge for email and messaging is limited bandwidth — 56kbit/s to 64kbit/s — when ships are deployed. This jumps to 100Mbit/s when ships are berthed and plugged into the navy’s high-speed network.

For this reason instant messaging, which operates over a highly secure network, is confined to chat although other features such as whiteboard, voice, video and application sharing are on the cards.

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