Illinois scraps frame-relay net

New network will better handle data, voice and video applications

It took a Herculean effort, but Illinois' government migrated from a privately leased, frame-relay-based network to one that will accommodate next-generation applications.

In less than a year, state officials moved 80 agencies from the frame-relay-network to an upgraded state-owned telecommunications backbone, a decision officials say could save the state millions of dollars. And they completed the project under budget.

Project Hercules, as officials named the statewide initiative, began in August 2004. When the state completed it in June, officials had replaced about 1,600 frame-relay circuits with more than 1,300 Cisco Systems routers. Agencies migrated to the state-owned Illinois Century Network (ICN), which supports nearly 7,900 colleges, universities, schools, libraries, museums, municipal governments and health care facilities. About 2 million citizens use ICN.

In 2004, state officials realized they could benefit from some of ICN's unused bandwidth, said Antonio Daniels, deputy director and chief of the Bureau of Communications and Computer Services in the Central Management Services (CMS) department.

The state upgraded ICN with Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), a technology that is easier to manage, moves data faster and allows state agencies to make better use of data, voice and video applications.

Instead of continuing to pay a vendor to provide circuits to agencies such as the departments of Revenue and Transportation and the Illinois State Police, the state moved that service to ICN where state employees can manage and monitor it, Daniels said. "We used MPLS to ensure quality of service," he said.

Greg Klass, account representative in WilTel Communications' Professional Services group, which conducted the migration, said the project was complex because of the number of agencies and sites. The company also monitored and managed the system while the state finished constructing a network operations center.

"The key thing was to make sure we were well-coordinated," Klass said. "We had to make sure that all circuits went in on time and all worked."

Daniels said the migration is part of a larger state initiative called the IT and Telecom Rationalization initiative, which began in 2003. Its purpose is to improve the state's use of technology by creating development and implementation standards; through better use of planning, governance and budgeting policies; and by sharing services, staff and resources.

The idea is to centralize and coordinate resources, said Geoff Potter, a CMS department spokesman. For example, the state negotiated a master telecom contract that allows it to pay seven cents per minute instead of 14 cents per minute, as some agencies had been paying, for broadband service. Also, by coordinating agencies' needs, one agency can let another take advantage of its unused desktop PC licenses.

In the past two years, the state has saved $210 million on telecom and IT spending, Potter said, a figure that doesn't include savings that could be gained from Project Hercules.

"We're looking at a multimillion [dollar] savings north of $7 million a year and perhaps significantly more than that on an ongoing basis," Daniels said. The state will cease use of the remaining circuits of the privately leased, frame-relay network before the end of the year.

Illinois and WilTel representatives said the state is leading most state governments in network consolidation and the use of MPLS technology.

"For a long time, industry has been talking about migrating to MPLS next-generation service," said Paul Savill, WilTel's vice president of data services. But only in the past year or two have organizations begun making that migration, and Illinois has led the way, he added.

Georgia switches to MPLS

In 2004 Georgia awarded a contract to BellSouth to manage the state's wide-area network and upgrade 2,400 circuits to Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). About 1,000 have been transitioned so far. A MPLS-based network offers greater speed, reliability and redundancy.

To illustrate the faster response times, officials said the state Office of Child Support Enforcement reduced case registration by half, from 20 minutes to nine. The Department of Corrections increased its network bandwidth 400 percent. Before the upgrade, it took several days for employees at the Department of Revenue's 12 regional offices to request and receive copies of bulky printed documents. Now they can access those same documents online.

Tom Wade, the Georgia Technology Authority's executive director, said in a prepared statement that MPLS will create a foundation for future technology advancements, such as voice over IP.

-- Dibya Sarkar

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