NOMAD: A Step Forward - or Backward?

Reader note: "I haven't seen much coverage of NASA's NOMAD (email/exchange server) implementation bringing ALL of NASA into one centralized email system.

Some effects have been to have messages sent from the NASA Administrator classified as spam. It has also caused very large volumes of email (hundreds of thousands of non-spam messages) from non-NOMAD servers be delayed for hours on many separate occasions.

Recently, GSFC center director Ed Weiler sent a broadcast message to ALL GSFC employees about a sudden all-hands meeting concerning his move back to NASA HQ. This message was received after the event by most NOMAD integrated staff, while those few not yet migrated into the new system received the email within seconds. Only those staff who were telephoned about the meeting were able to attend.

In effect, this has caused huge numbers of NASA employees and contractors to use gmail or some outside email service as their reliable form of communication. In addition what used to be relatively free is now costs about $25/month/user to fund only 200 Mb of email storage space. A huge step down not counting the reliability issues."

NOMAD - NASA Operational Messaging and Directory Service

NOMAD Status

Comments? Send them to Your comments thus far:

I was transitioned to NOMAD last week (and missed Weiler's all-hands because of it). I am not usually a complainer, but this is certainly worse than our previous solution not even considering that we must pay much more for this. Our office had our own mail server, so most of the emails we sent around were within the office, and those used to be instantaneous even with big attachments. Now, nomad is hit and miss, and large attachments are not possible. Two hour lags in email delivery is not uncommon. The web interface seems old, and is slow (I'll only use that if I have to). I've been with NASA ten years, never had a meeting maker account, so I don't know what I'm missing there.

This is a concern to me. When migrating, I was given a temp password, based on a formula including my initials. I went to change the password, and it was denied with an error saying what I chose was not complex enough. I kept increasing complexity until it was nearly random, including upper and lower case with numbers and symbols. This was starting to take an hour, so I called the help desk. I was informed then (not when I was given the temp password, and not in the password change errors) that the policy was to not allow a password change for 5 days. So, for 5 days, anyone who might know when I was migrating, and the formula, could easily gain access to my NOMAD account. My understanding is that a big motivation for NOMAD was security.

I can't help but think that there are many free email services out there with more space, faster, better designed and better security. Is one-size fits all a NASA thing or a Govt thing?

I can remember as far back as the first browsers that were available on the MacIntosh that had email (early 90's) that we never had any problems communicating. In fact when MSFC was almost an all Mac shop we could access printers and other equipment out on the center through an Apple talk domain from UAH. All we had to do was print to a print spooler at MSFC our power point presentations and they would print, be collated, and ready to hand out by the time we got there from the short drive over. We never had any problems with email or messages between centers either and could even use CUSEEME to video conference to different centers or across the globe to the Moscow Aviation Institute.

Everything went straight to hell in a handbasket when the center made the forced switch over to an all PC environment and has never recovered.

I recommend a special section in Economist about a month ago on egovernment around the world. The number one lesson is that when governments insist on developing their own software they end up with obsolete, unfriendly systems that are more expensive to maintain than commercial systems. NOMAD seems to be just one more example. The take-away message: any communications system that begins with N (for NASA) is going to be inferior to what our kids and grandkids are using every day.

Hi Keith-

Here are a few comments on NOMAD from both an IT standpoint (not an official NASA opinion) and as an end user.

One correction from an earlier comment. NOMAD is a collection of commercially available products, namely Microsoft Exchange coupled with mobile add ons (Blackberry Enterprise Server and Goodlink for Treos) and the usual Microsoft clients (Outlook/Entourage). It is NOT a custom implementation as one commenter said.

While I am no lover of Microsoft Exchange (more on that below), I think ON THE WHOLE it has been a huge improvement for the agency. We have excellent synchronization with mobile devices (at least as good as it gets, not NASA's fault), we have common scheduling capability and the access to exchange is not limited to a certain center's (or the network. I can access Exchange from my home machine as well with my NASA laptop from any network. These are all benefits from an end user standpoint that were NOT available with center-based services.

I think many of the people complaining are just complainers at heart with very revisionist memories. Remember all of those "wonderful" center-based e-mail services? They all worked differently, were not all easily accessible and there was no calendaring integration. You'd go to center X for example and have to VPN home just to get your mail! Or you could get to the pop server to receive mail, but you couldn't send mail because the smtp server was behind the center firewall.

When we all used center-based Meeting Maker calendaring software, everyone HATED this thing You couldn't schedule with people out of your center etc and it was not at all integrated with anything else. All of this used to drive the same complainers crazy, that NASA was not "with it". Well, we got "with it" and they still complain. Like it or not MS Exchange is pretty much the gold standard for this kind of COTS messaging. We can debate whether other tools like Lotus Notes (we piloted these a number of years ago) and Zimbra etc, are better (the process for selecting Exchange was less than ideal). That said, they all have their issues and I believe MS Exchange provided the best solution. It's a pick your poison kind of decision.

My main beef with Exchange is that it is a closed product and to be able to integrate 3rd party software (iPhones, open source clients et al), you have to pay exorbitant licensing fees to Microsoft for use of their APIs. There is good news on this front thanks to the EU suit, they are now publishing many APIs (including Exchange 2007) and allowing non commercial royalty free use. So technically, Mozilla could now build in Exchange support to Thunderbird, which would get us out of the Microsoft client "jail".

Read this: Entourage is a bastard stepchild to Outlook and Linux/Unix users are left in the dust. That is my main rant about Exchange is it's lack of openness. But hopefully that will change.

From an IT management perspective, I'm sure the numbers for consolidation work in the agency's favor, that's what business case analysis required by OMB is for (Enterprise Architecture). It gets rid of the feefdoms that are so often built.

So my comment to the complainers: GET OVER IT, you have it better!

On another note about IM, FINALLY, there is a move afoot to open up the NASA Jabber service to be accessed outside of NASA, once the appropriate authentication infrastructure is ready. This will be a great boost to making that service REALLY useful and we won't have to use things like Yahoo or GoogleTalk when we are outside the network.

You mentioned the $25 cost/user/month. At Goddard not only does this apply to people it also applies to conference rooms if you want to schedule them through the Nomad Calender.

I read your latest posting on NOMAD with great interest, I, for one, saw it as a welcomed change to NASA. It integrated all of the Centers (or is in the midst of doing so) with a common messaging system and allows us to access our email off site with much greater ease. As for the 'huge' numbers of employees using another form of email service I am skeptical of that, unless you have been bombarded with thousands of emails from NASA employees. I have had very little trouble with the new system. As for the spam problem, I think that is in issue wherever we go. I know I always have that with my home email account.

Thank you for the post about NOMAD. I've been wondering when something about it would show up on NASA Watch. Before NOMAD, when my Center ran its own mail servers, we had extremely speedy and reliable e-mail, with excellent spam filters. NOMAD's speed of e-mail transfer varies widely. Occasionally e-mail goes through quickly (although rarely as quickly as it once did), but often there are delays of multiple hours between the time a message is sent and the time it is received, even when sender and recipient are in the same building. Perhaps this is intentional; after all, one of the definitions of 'nomad' is 'a wanderer', and e-mail does seem to wander about at times. The NOMAD spam filtering is inconsistent, often letting messages through that are obviously spam, and blocking other messages that are obviously not spam (even when the sender is 'whitelisted'). So, the bottom line is, as most of us expected in advance it would be, our e-mail service quality has definitely suffered since the forced transition to NOMAD.

A researcher at Langley (not using NOMAD to send this message, to be sure it gets to you today.)


This is Goddard management's response to the recent NOMAD problems. I had to read this a few times before I realized that it was not intended to be satire. Is [DELETED] really proposing that NASA business be conducted over Facebook?

Begin forwarded message:

Date: March 26, 2008 10:30:16 PM EDT
Subject: NOMAD musings

Ok, everyone was complaining about the email latency in NOMAD today. I think it all started this morning when the shock wave hit about Alan Stern leaving NASA. Everyone decided to email all their colleagues and friends with the news, and that choked up the system. well, that's a better excuse than the real reason (believe me you dont want to know... ).

Personally, I missed most of Weiler's all-hands meeting, because I didnt get the email in time. Do you ever get the feeling that email is just ancient technology? well, it is! Just ask anyone under the age of 21. My daughter (21) still uses IM, cell phone, facebook. My son (19) does everything on an iphone (he did his physics homework on it this week, and sent it to his professor from his iphone). There was an article in the Washington Post last week about things that have become obsolete in our lifetime... here is a quote from the story:

"I used to use Instant Messenger, but now I mostly use Facebook to communicate with people. I use e-mail for, like, reaching my coaches or uncles -- older people. Otherwise it's either my cellphone or Facebook." -- Emily Siegel, 16, Alexandria

So, there you have it... NASA's problem is that we are all "old people". Maybe we deserve tardy email.

Certainly true, especially the incident described below. I received my email time-tagged at 3:33PM when the meeting was at 11:30AM and the email was sent at 10:38AM.

I like the post about NOMAD. In general I've felt the IT capabilities and systems we use at NASA are laughable. The new FDCC requirements are about to handcuff the researchers into access to limited "approved" software. This will turn our ODIN issued computers into little more than e-mail machines, and many of us researchers and engineers don't have alternatives. It seems that there is an idea that we can do our jobs with Word and Powerpoint alone.

I would encourage you to cover the IT debacle that NASA is putting itself through. And the toll its having on engineers just trying to get there work done. BTW, access to external email is blocked at some centers, including gmail.

I'm not sure of the policy at other centers, but at JSC we are restricted from accessing external mail services from our on-site computers. Services like gmail and yahoo mail are blocked by IT. I've been having email delivery issues myself - not all off-site contractor emails are getting to me. Who knows what important data I could be missing.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 29, 2008 10:12 AM.

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