During the last decade federal agencies have installed networks at an astonishing rate linking people within departments connecting one department to another and bridging the distances that separate headquarters and remote users whether in branch offices or on the battlefield. The concept became known as network-centric computing.
It recognizes that the value of information ultimately hinges on the ability of an organization to get data into the hands of the people who need it.However the last several years have brought a subtle change in focus. Rather than build individual networks agencies are striving now to create an underlying infrastructure on which information can flow seamlessly throughout their organizations.
In the Defense Department the concept translates into network-centric warfare which has become a rallying cry for each of the services and the cornerstone of the department's vision of joint warfighting. Agencies building the network infrastructure face many difficult decisions.
First they must choose the underlying network fabric matching the demands of applications such as voice and video with technologies. Currently Asynchronous Transfer Mode and Synchronous Optical Network are dominant in the federal arena but organizations must always weigh mission requirements against cost and performance.
Agencies also must consider the services that ride on top of that infrastructure including telecommunications and messaging. The emergence of new procurement vehicles offers customers much greater flexibility in tailoring services to their specific communications requirements. As we race toward the new millennium federal networking just as the world it connects is changing. This supplement presents some of the variables that agencies must consider and the factors that will shape their choices.