Pentagon renovation takes the long view

Information technology advances at such a fast pace - with today's technology obsolescent in 18 months - most IT managers probably have not bothered to add "long-range planning" to their lexicon. But long-term planning definitely stands as a priority for Col. Robert Kirsch, the IT project manager for the 10-year-plus Pentagon Renovation Program.

Kirsch, speaking during a whirlwind tour in 90-plus-degree heat through the already gutted initial section of the Pentagon, explained that he has to provide state-of-the-art IT that not only meets the needs of current user requirements but also is built to take into account technology changes "over the next 50 years."

This means that Kirsch, who works for the Army Communications-Electronics Command (Cecom), has to act fast to insert new technologies into a project of unprecedented scale to meet today's and tomorrow's IT requirements. Those requirements are designed to serve 25,000 high-powered users who work in the headquarters of a globally deployed military establishment.

For example, Kirsch recently decided to move most of the building's telephone network - which provides lines for fax machines, modems and other devices in addition to telephone service - onto the building's high-speed fiber-optic backbone rather than extend the Pentagon's 90,000 existing twisted-pair circuits. He opted for this strategy because he became convinced of the downstream benefits that would come from such a move, even though his team already had started to configure a mammoth switch room to handle the massive wiring task.

John Scott, the switch architecture product leader in the Pentagon Renovation Program's Information Management and Telecommunication (IM&T) office, said the Pentagon initially would see little savings from moving analog voice circuits to the Pentagon's 48 megabits/sec fiber-optic backbone, but he definitely expects to see "cost savings in late years" - a real determinant in a project designed for economical use well into the next century. He declined to estimate the savings.

To transport classified data as well as unclassified information, the IM&T team is installing two physically separated Synchronous Optical Network backbones that use Asynchronous Transfer Mode switches to deliver voice, video and data over the same fiber highways.

Kirsch supervises the work of two prime backbone contractors: Bell Atlantic, which is tasked with installation in the Pentagon basement under its long-term Telecommunications Modernization Project contract; and GTE Government Systems, which won the contract to install the above-ground portion of the backbone last year.

Together, these two contractors will not only pull miles of cable, they also will install the necessary switching and termination equipment in more than 30 communications equipment rooms and more than 470 telecommunications closets, according to Sajeel Ahmed, acting director of engineering in the Pentagon engineering office for the Cecom Information Systems Engineering command. Backbone and switch installation is phased with the physical rehabilitation of the Pentagon, which will be conducted in wedges over the next five years. The interior of each wedge will be stripped to the bare walls.

The overhaul will include removing what Kirsch described as a "rat's nest of wires" that had been installed throughout the building since it first opened in 1943. This wiring was installed so haphazardly, according to Ahmed, that the renovation team could not figure out the purpose of some of the wiring, even though each wire was traced before its removal.

The new Pentagon backbone will bring order to the Pentagon's wiring, with physical installation done through well-planned conduits or cable ladders. Once installed, each circuit will be mapped in a computer-aided design database to aid trouble-shooting and help eliminate future rats' nests.

As far as users are concerned, the physical manifestation of this decade-long project will be a simple wall plate. This wall plate will provide plugs for telephones and fax machines, another set of plugs for network connections ranging from Ethernet to ATM-to-the-desktop circuits and another plug for cable TV. Kirsch said the result for users will be "plug-and-play information." The new infrastructure, which Kirsch plans to deliver "on cost and on schedule," should be good for the next 50 years.

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