Fast nets for the rank and file

Gigabit Ethernet technology has been slow to catch on in the federal government,

limited mostly to agencies with massive data crunching applications, such

as the Energy Department.

But an Army plan to start using the high-speed technology this year for

regular office networks, combined with a slew of new products offering better

manageability at lower cost, is expected to accelerate the government's

move to the new technology.

Operating at speeds up to 1,000 megabits/sec, Gigabit Ethernet offers a

tenfold performance boost over its closest relative, Fast Ethernet, which

operates at 100 megabits/ sec. The extra performance is increasingly needed

as agencies use more network-intensive applications, such as voice over

IP, videoconferencing and online training.

Gigabit Ethernet proponents say the technology is less expensive and complex

than Asynchronous Transfer Mode. ATM is a high-speed transmission technology

normally used for wide-area connections but also deployed as a backbone

service, which is where most early adopters are deploying Gigabit Ethernet.

It's for precisely that type of environment that the Army will install

Gigabit Ethernet next month at Fort Carson, Colo., marking the first such

use of the technology under a major Army networking program.

The network will be installed as part of the Army's Common User Installation

Transport Network (CUITN) program. Gigabit Ethernet will provide Fort Carson

users with as much as a sixfold increase in bandwidth compared with the

Army's current ATM network.

"Army users to benefit from this data network upgrade include every

type of user on a typical Army installation," said Army Lt. Col. Edward

McCoy, the product manager for the Army Communications-Electronics Command's

Defense Data Networks program.

"Folks doing e-mail, participating in distance-learning programs, using...applications

such as logistics and personnel...and folks using the Web to help perform

their daily duties," he said. "Voice over IP, desktop video teleconferencing

and a host of broadband capacity will be supported."

The Fort Carson network will include a pair of Gigabit Ethernet switches

at the nucleus of the system in the so-called Dial Central Office. From

there, single-mode fiber-optic cable interconnects all the area distribution

nodes.

The Army's CUITN program was designed to provide an intelligent information

infrastructure that supports high-speed data transfer at Army sites worldwide.

CUITN is part of the Army's overall Installation Information Infrastructure

Modernization Program (I3MP).

Current funding levels through I3MP support starting new Gigabit Ethernet

networks at four or five new sites per year, McCoy said. "We are finishing

Fort Carson in fiscal year 2000, but we are also starting work at Fort Wainwright,

Alaska; Fort Shafter, Hawaii; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Benning, Ga.; and Fort

Polk, La., in this fiscal year."

Lucent Technologies is the prime contractor for Fort Carson and is providing

integration, engineering and maintenance services. Foundry Networks Inc.,

a provider of switching and routing solutions, is providing the hardware,

McCoy said.

— Colleen O'Hara contributed to this article.

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