Revamped e-mail system will ease communications

The Transportation Department this month will roll out a system that will let 70,000 users of different electronic-mail systems communicate regardless of what e-mail package they use.

"Messaging is the most important application on a user's desktop," said George Ramick Jr., DOT's messaging manager. However, department users have suffered from unreliable connectivity, inaccurate directories, splintered support and the lack of a departmentwide policy or standard that would ensure interoperability.

As a result, five e-mail packages and 15 PC mail gateways were in use throughout the department, making system management extremely difficult.

When Ramick's group was formed to revamp the system, he said, maintaining agencies' investments in their current e-mail packages, including Lotus Development Corp.'s cc:Mail, Microsoft Corp.'s Mail and Banyan Systems Inc.'s Beyond Mail, was an important factor.

"We knew quick fixes weren't going to do," he said. "We had severe infrastructure problems with routers, cabling and management of e-mail systems. We wanted to make [the new system] more user-friendly and use the existing systems to do that. My job is to work with each operating administration to make sure their system works with the whole organization."

With $600,000 in funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Coast Guard, the Federal Highway Administration and the Office of the Secretary, Ramick's office is using Control Data Systems Inc.'s Mail Hub suite of products to build an X.400/X.500-based system that will send all messages through a single Unix-based redundant Sun Microsystems Inc. system and provide an X.500 directory service that will tie the department together.

The messaging engine allows DOT to strip away the old PC gateways and send messages through the Mail Hub, making messaging faster.

"Attachments will not be lost or renamed, Word documents can be converted to WordPerfect, and the directory will support the use of digital signatures," Ramick said. "It will also improve our communication with the public."

Inta Cloud, project manager for the program at Control Data, said the biggest advantage the department will see is in the area of directories. "Before, directory synchronization was difficult because [the system] had connectivity with multiple gateways but didn't have full directory integration," she said. Now there is one central location for directory synchronization and management.

The project, which has undergone off- and on-site testing before going live this month, will help DOT plan for the future. The department expects its messaging volume to increase by 830 percent between now and 2001, due in part to increased use of the Internet and the need to link to current departmental applications.

The first mail-enabled application to be offered will be faxing. Ramick said the department hopes to use the X.500 database to serve as a standard directory for new applications.

"The DOT has determined that X.500 is a key technology for the future, and that's another reason this is a strategic project for them, and us, since the U.S. is embracing this standard," said Jim Seaman, national sales manager for Control Data.

"DOT's choice of technology will integrate into what the rest of the government is doing as well and give them a headstart," he said.

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