Fast nets for the rank and file
- By Dan Caterinicchia, Dan Caterinicchia, Dan Verton
- May 08, 2000
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
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,
— Colleen O'Hara contributed to this article.