DISA moves NIPRNET to Sprint

The Defense Information Systems Agency later this year plans to move a substantial portion of its key nonclassified data network to a new system that uses advanced switching technology capable of data rates of up to 622 megabit/sec. The action sparked immediate industry reaction in the highly competitive Defense telecommunications market.

The decision to move to an Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) network was prompted by the cost savings the new solution offers, said Army Maj. Gen. David Kelley, and by the "explosive" growth of traffic on DISA's Nonclassified Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPRNET), the Pentagon's graphics-heavy intranet.

Under the plan, DISA's continental United States backbone and 10 major nodes of NIPRNET will be moved, probably in October, from the AT&T Defense Commercial Telecommunications Network (DCTN) to an ATM network operated by Sprint.

NIPRNET and its companion, SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network) replaced the Defense Data Network as the primary carriers of Defense Department data last year.

This is the latest in a series of bridge contracts that DOD has attempted to create as it awaits the award of the next-generation Defense Information Systems Network contract. MCI Communications Inc. has an existing DOD contract for ATM services and objects to this new vehicle.

While the new Sprint ATM network initially will offer only T-3 circuits (45 megabit/sec), by next January DISA expects to be running ATM over Sonet OC-12 pipes. Kelley said the agency, and its users in the three services and other Defense agencies, should see a "potential 29 percent decrease in rates."

The new contract also could provide ATM cell-based usage-sensitive billing, according to Army Col. Marlin Forbes, DISA's DISN program manager.

Lower Price

Kelley added that the price reduction on NIPRNET illustrates just how much rates can be lowered in a competitive environment, a strategy the agency is pursuing for the multivendor, next-generation DISN. Kelley said the new, ATM-based NIPRNET will serve as a "bridge" network until DoD starts transitioning to DISN ATM service in October 1997.

Forbes said DISA acquired the ATM network through the General Services Administration's Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, via a contract with Pulsar Data Systems, which subcontracted the network portion to Sprint.

Spokesmen for Pulsar and Sprint said they had not received confirmation of the acquisition and thus would not be able to comment.

Diana Gowen, director of DOD sales and marketing at MCI Government Markets, said: "If indeed DISA has made this award, we will protest. We have the only legitimate, valid DOD-wide ATM contract." MCI holds the Navy-Air Force (NAVAF) ATM contract designed primarily to hook together high-speed processors for weather data. But, Gowen said, the NAVAF ATM contract is "very wide in scope" and would allow DOD to put NIPRNET traffic on it.

AT&T declined to comment on the NIPRNET move. "We have not been notified, so we don't have any comment," a spokeswoman said.

Warren Suss, a Pennsylvania-based telecommunications analyst, said he was "not surprised to see DISA find a way to get around the high rates on DCTN. There have also been performance problems on NIPRNET and SIPRNET, and this new network may help solve those problems too."

Suss added that necessity also probably pushed DISA to seek a higher-speed backbone for NIPRNET, considering the number of World Wide Web pages operated by the services on that network. "Web graphics are real bandwidth killers," he said, "and DOD is going to continue to see the demand for bandwidth grow."

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