Civilian, Defense agencies start network installations (Part 1)

The Treasury Department plans to upgrade its nationwide data network to a high-speed high-bandwidth backbone making it possible for the agency to take advantage of videoconferencing multimedia and other emerging applications.

When the upgrade of the $425 million Treasury Communications System (TCS) is complete it is expected to be the largest civilian agency deployment of Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) networking technology. The migration begins with a Washington D.C.-area pilot in October.

TCS is the primary network for the department's 150 000 users that provides a pipe for data e-mail Internet access and other applications. ATM which transports information by breaking it up into smaller packets of data than other network technologies is considered more suitable for Treasury's increasing workload.

Treasury's approach to the upgrade illustrates how agencies must now develop major information technology projects. Prescriptions for managing IT - reflected in the Clinger-Cohen Act and the Government Performance and Results Act - require Treasury IT officials to build large systems piece by piece and take their direction from end users.

How quickly the technology is made available to all of Treasury's network users will depend on whether the users are convinced the technology is worth the money said Brian Carman acting director of the department's Office of Telecommunications Management.

"In the past we've acted as the big technologist in the sky but the times are changing " Carman said. "Hopefully by the second quarter [of fiscal 1998] we'll have enough positive results" to generate support from users throughout the country.

Although the Defense Department and some civilian scientific research agencies have installed the technology Treasury most likely will be the first department to use it for regular business applications. Treasury IT officials last week said that recent improvements in ATM products led to their decision to start replacing the backbone of their existing packet-switched network.

"There are a lot of questions about just what ATM is as far as the maturity of the technology but in the backbone for major circuit-switching broadband communications it's good " said Ken Malley the Treasury TCS program manager. He said the upgrade is designed to support user demand for high-bandwidth network services including videoconferencing multimedia and imaging applications. "We're able to concentrate more workload into bigger pipes and get economy of scale " he said.

The Internal Revenue Service and the Secret Service will test the backbone first but Carman said he is planning for most of the rest of the department to be connected by the end of next year. TCS is funded by users on a fee-for-service basis and the initial $8 million investment in the upgrade will cover only the pilot and service on 10 percent of the nationwide network.

The ATM pilot will run on Treasury's Digital Telecommunications Services network a fiber-optic network that supports voice and data communications in the Washington metropolitan area. DTS is connected with TCS for nationwide transmissions.

When an agency deploys ATM it no longer needs routers to connect its local-area networks to its backbone network. Tom Nolle a networking analyst and president of CIMI Corp. Voorhees N.J. said ATM switches now are better able to handle data at speeds of 1.5 megabit/sec (T-1). Most of the access points on the existing Treasury network pass data at speeds of T-1 or slower.

Tom McKeown whose consulting firm Vista Group International is helping Treasury with TCS planning said he sees a demand for applications that would increase network traffic. "We feel from a strategic point of view we need to move out rapidly because each one of the bureaus [is] looking for services now " he said. "If they're not getting it from TCS there's a danger they will begin to go on their own and stovepipe."

Al Bailey deputy director for the TCS program with prime contractor TRW Inc. said deploying an ATM backbone positions Treasury for growth. Bruce Fleming senior systems engineer with TCS subcontractor BBN Corp. said Treasury could take what it learns from the installation to explore whether to extend the technology to the desktop. The upgrade also could position Treasury to capture business from other federal agencies Nolle said.

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Civilian Defense agencies start network installations (Part 12 At Fort Gordon Ga. the promise of video-on-demand to the desktop has turned into reality with the completion of a sophisticated high-speed digital backbone network that also handles wide-band data and voice.

Fort Gordon home of the Army Signal School and Command recently completed installation of an Asynchronous Transfer Mode network that makes the post the first Army base "with a fully functioning ATM network " according to Jim Miller director of information management at Fort Gordon.

Other Army installations have installed ATM switches as interfaces between the long-haul Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) and a base wide-area network Miller said but Fort Gordon is the only Army base with ATM switches installed throughout the WAN. "This means I can now easily pass video throughout the computer network " Miller said.

Fort Gordon installed the network as a way to follow Army directives and to train soldiers which is the primary mission of the Signal School. Dennis Reimer Army chief of staff has issued directives that emphasize distance learning and "old fashioned" military instructors cannot hope to keep the attention of video-savvy young soldiers Miller said.

These soldiers "grew up playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo " he said. "How can Army trainers keep their attention with herky-jerky video? We needed the infrastructure that could provide us with the bandwidth [to support] computer-based and video-based training."Last month Miller put the network through its paces by broadcasting a live feed of soldiers going through their regimental run. "People do live-TV feeds all the time but they don't do it over the same system that carriers voice and data " Miller said.

John Lee chief technical officer for Integrated Telecommunications Asset Management Inc. (ITAM) said the high-speed backbone also allows users to conduct "interactive full-motion video teleconferencing while directly attached to the ATM network." The video-on-demand server can manage up to 60 simultaneous users Lee added.

Miller said he believes the fully operational Fort Gordon ATM network will supply valuable "lessons learned" to the Army as it starts rolling out the technology to other bases.

Warren Suss a Pennsylvania-based telecommunications analyst said the Defense Department has been slow to adopt ATM technology for several reasons including the fact "that they don't depreciate their assets quickly due to cost pressures. It takes them a long time to switch hardware. There were also serious technical issues involved with ATM for a long time."

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