DOD slows high-speed telecom development

MONTEREY Calif. - The Defense Information Systems Agency announced last week that it has adopted a slower approach to its development of advanced high-speed switching technology on communication networks that will serve all Defense Department users.

DISA director Lt. Gen. David Kelley speaking here at the annual Military Communications Conference (Milcom) '97 said the agency would like to incorporate Asynchronous Transfer Mode technology into the Defense Information Systems Network (DISN) - a wideband communications network designed to satisfy the heavy bandwidth needs of all three services - but he said "The technology is not fully mature."

ATM switches allow users to send voice video and data over the same circuits dynamically allocating the bandwidth required by each as needed. This allows a wideband signal such as a data-rich video teleconference signal to grab a larger portion of a given circuit only when it is needed and then return the full capacity of that circuit to other users. Older switch technologies require full-time dedication of a complete circuit to such wideband users significantly slowing down the transmission of signals.

Kelley's predecessor retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Al Edmonds strongly embraced ATM technology making it the focal point of the global DISN technology in his speeches.

Kelley also said at Milcom that the ATM Forum a standards-setting group that includes industry people and users such as DISA staff "has not yet come to grips with security."

An Air Force network manager at the conference who spoke on condition of anonym-ity agreed with Kelley's assessment of the inability of ATM switches to operate in a secure environment saying firewall software becomes "overwhelmed" with traffic passed through ATM switches.

Peter Paulson chief of DISN's operations division at DISA also echoed Kelley's comments calling ATM "a new technology that is not standards-based.... We would be buying into proprietary solutions."

Adm. Archie Clemins the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet who has spearheaded a project to create a seamless ship-to-shore network IT architecture called Information Technology for the 21st Century put ATM at the core of the Navy's networking architecture. The Navy Clemins said plans to develop during the next two years a "global intranet" based on ATM technology capable of easily sending voice video and data from ships at sea to terminals ashore.

Clemins outlined plans to interconnect those ships via high-powered satellites.

Industry sources here at Milcom were puzzled by DISA's backpedaling from ATM especially after Clemins' comments endorsing the technology. But they said the slow-down could be related to Kelley's more cautious management style and the slower than anticipated transition of the DISN continental United States (CONUS) network to Synchronous Optical Network technology which DOD is acquiring through the DISN Transmission CONUS contract held by AT&T.

Paulson said the costs of operating DISN CONUS have dropped as a result of that contract from $17 million a month last year to as little as $7 million a month this year.

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