Speedy delivery

Walter Reed taps 10 Gigabit Ethernet for next-generation medical care

As one of the first federal installations to use 10 Gigabit Ethernet, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center is unique among agencies in some ways, but typical in others.

On the unique side, it's a leading clinical research and education center that provides referral care for other centers in the United States and around the world. As such, its goal "is to take a visionary approach to [information technology], to cater to the needs of health care both today and for the future," according to Lt. Col. Vaseal Lewis, the center's chief information officer.

Part of that vision is to enable doctors to practice telemedicine, which provides real-time consultation services to far-flung centers using a seamless combination of voice, video and data communication services. However, the point at which vision intersected with reality was the center's existing data network, which was not the best candidate for delivering the needed bandwidth for new applications.

Although Walter Reed's IT requirements may be more demanding than some agencies', its budgetary constraints are similar. Therefore, any network upgrade would have to start earning its keep right away.

One way to do that is through a new voice-over-IP telephone system, which will be installed shortly after a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network is deployed. The voice-over-IP system is expected to cut $2 million a year in phone costs.

"We used the same Centrex phone system that a lot of other people use, which led right back to Verizon as our service provider and for which we paid a lot of money," said Roger Miller, the center's chief technology officer. "So we also wanted a voice-over-IP system that would work straight out of the box [over the new Ethernet network] so we wouldn't have to pay those phone bills anymore."

Disarming its ATM

For Walter Reed officials, the ultimate goal for the new network was to build a "stable, reliable, redundant platform with no single point of failure," Lewis said. The upgrade would focus on the part of the network that carries data traffic among buildings and major servers and networking equipment.

Center officials examined the possibility of improving and stabilizing the existing Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) network, but they quickly decided against that option. It would cost about $4 million and would result in a system that could only meet the center's needs for few years.

Meanwhile, Lewis and her staff were considering other choices, including Gigabit Ethernet and, to a lesser extent, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, which was just emerging as a viable option. Gigabit-speed Ethernet solutions were attractive because they could meet the center's future speed requirements and because the center's IT staff was already familiar with the technology, which could keep management costs down.

"We looked first at putting in 1 Gigabit Ethernet, but as we were going through the assessment process for that, we also looked at the possibilities of 10 Gigabit Ethernet over a single fiber," said Earl Kimberlake, chief of Walter Reed's networking branch.

The center already had multimode fiber in the ground for the ATM network, he said, but deploying new 10 Gigabit Ethernet rather than 1 Gigabit Ethernet meant using one-tenth the amount of that fiber to provide the desired 32 gigabits/sec data rate for the network's core.

The desire to conserve fiber encouraged Walter Reed administrators to go with 10 Gigabit Ethernet, said Ken Cheng, vice president of marketing at Foundry Networks Inc., which provided the networking equipment and support for the installation. Although it's more expensive initially than using 1 Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet minimizes the need to lay new fiber for future expansions.

"The amount of money needed to get digging started to lay fiber is huge," said Gary Hubbard, a Foundry engineer working on the Walter Reed project.

And using just one 10 Gigabit Ethernet card in the network switch for each fiber is a much easier setup to manage, Kimberlake said.

Using 10 Gigabit Ethernet also made the initial installation easier than using multiple 1 Gigabit ports, said Trevia Martin, vice president of operations for Force 3, the integrator for the Walter Reed project. Aside from the smaller number of ports, however, there was "nothing specific" that distinguished the 10 Gigabit installation from 1 Gigabit projects the company has completed in the past couple of years, she said.

That doesn't mean the Walter Reed project was easy. For one thing, keeping the old ATM network in place meant Force 3 couldn't simply install the new network in one attempt. Instead, with Ethernet running over ATM, the company had to take the Ethernet side of that configuration and "mesh it" into the separate 10 Gigabit network through a router.

Also, because the ATM network had never been upgraded since its installation in 1996, it was not operating efficiently. To help migrate the system to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, the project team broke the ATM network into segments so that the traffic could be transferred to the new network bit by bit, saving the most problematic areas for last.

The new networking equipment was one part of the project that didn't create problems, Martin said, despite the fact that Foundry was chosen as the supplier well before the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. published the final 802.3ae 10 Gigabit standard in June. The Foundry implementation of the standard was "rock solid," she said.

Assessing vendors took about a year, Kimberlake said, and then various 10 Gigabit cards were tested before the Foundry card was chosen. Testing cards under various conditions was important to make sure they could deliver as claimed, he said.

"We looked for cards that were capable of wire speed performance," Kimberlake said. "We wanted to know that whatever we threw into the card chassis would come down the [fiber] at 10 gigabits."

The six-month project, which should have taken two years, ended in June. The result is an end-to-end Ethernet network that the existing IT staff can operate and manage and that provides substantially higher performance and capability than the old system.

And, by using the fiber that's still left in the ground and adding more 10 Gigabit cards to the network switch chassis, the network's capacity could be increased to several hundred gigabits for little extra cost.

No formal cost/benefit analysis was done, but the estimated savings alone seem to justify the project. For about $2 million more than what the cost of the ATM upgrade would have been, plus $200,000 a year in ongoing maintenance costs, Walter Reed will eventually save $2 million a year in telephone charges, the salaries of the three people needed to handle the old Centrex phone system and the money spent on training people on ATM and Ethernet. There will also be savings on the clinical side, Lewis said. The ability to provide regional centers with real-time consultations using specialists at Walter Reed will save those centers the cost of hiring their own local specialists.

And, in the final analysis, that's what this effort aimed to do, she said. In putting the 10 Gigabit Ethernet network in place, the goal was to "see where the medical side was going in the future and build for that."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

***

Built for speed

Agency: Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Challenge: Upgrade the center's network so that medical staff can conduct research and provide real-time clinical consultations to remote centers around the world using voice, video and data telemedicine.

Solution: Foundry Networks Inc.'s IronWare switch/router using 10 Gigabit Ethernet modules. Cost: About $5.5 million to $6 million.

Agency benefit: An immediate, substantial increase in network performance that provides the center's medical staff with the capability to use telemedicine, the potential for major future capacity increases for only incremental increases in cost, and once the voice-over-IP system is deployed, elimination of large payments to the phone service provider.

NEXT STORY: Senate passes cyber R&D funding

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.