Air Force ready for top-flight Pentagon net

A dual government-contractor team expects this summer to complete its upgrade of the Air Force's Pentagon network — in less than half the time originally expected and within budget.

The network modernization project, carried out by the Army's Office of the Deputy for Information Technology and Communications and systems integrator Lockheed Martin Corp., will replace the Air Force's 10M Ethernet network with a Gigabit Ethernet backbone. It is intended to provide the increased bandwidth necessary to support voice, video and data traffic for the Air Force's 3,000 Pentagon employees.

Air Force officials once thought the upgrade would take two years. But when the team won the bid last August, its members signed a service-level agreement that laid out "rigorous levels of performance," including an aggressive 34-week timetable and $6.5 million fixed price, said Andrew Brasch, director of programs, requirements and implementation for the Air Force-Pentagon Communications Agency (AFPCA).

The network replacement, which was originally scheduled to begin on Sept. 11, was delayed for one month.

The Air Force network was scheduled for replacement as part of the Pentagon's overall renovations, because it could not keep up with the service's computing and bandwidth needs, Brasch said.

Gerald Gaskins Sr., a project manager for Lockheed Martin Information Technology, said the fixed price and inflexible schedule were daunting challenges, but his team separated the job into five phases — planning, survey, design, testing and implementation — which has helped meet and exceed goals.

Gaskins and George Wilamowski, project manager for the Lockheed Martin implementation team, are leading a core group of 18 of their employees and subcontractors from SMS Data Products Group Inc. The team is now more than halfway through the final phase and may finish ahead of the scheduled end-date of July 8, Gaskins said.

Still, replacing the legacy network with a Cisco Systems Inc. standard Gigabit Ethernet model in less than nine months has not been easy. "The Pentagon network infrastructure is fairly old, and there's always a surprise a minute," Gaskins said. "During the first two phases, we couldn't certify all the legacy fiber to connect into, and once we found it, the fiber may not be any good."

The new Gigabit Ethernet network will handle the Air Force's large volume of Pentagon traffic and meet its future needs, which could include videoconferencing to the desktop, Gaskins said. "They needed higher bandwidth. With the 10M network, you can do e-mail and that's it, but [Gigabit Ethernet] allows you to do everything faster."

Capt. Theophilus Jackman, chief of the AFPCA's network implementation branch, said the modernization project is about providing the Air Force with more reliable communications.

"The overall vision here is to make sure our people can communicate on a more reliable network than we had previously," Jackman said. "Before, it was a hodgepodge...with Band-Aids everywhere. Now it's scalable to meet the needs of not just the next two years, but for five years as the Air Force grows and our requirements grow."

But the use of Gigabit Ethernet involves some risk since it means consolidating numerous Air Force networks within the Pentagon. "This gives them one huge network that is easier to maintain and upgrade, and it's all the same equipment," Gaskins said. "Before, the different equipment in different offices made it difficult to isolate problems."

Jason Smolek, an enterprise networks analyst at IDC, said because of its high computing and bandwidth needs, the Air Force's decision to upgrade to a Gigabit Ethernet network was a smart one. "It's natural for them to do this," he said.

Gigabit Ethernet networks are relatively cheap and easy to deploy, Smolek said, adding that he was not surprised by the choice to use Cisco equipment as the standard, although its products tend to be more expensive than others.

Frederick Budd, the Army's deputy for IT and communications, said the Air Force had long supported the Army's Pentagon networks, and now it's time to return the favor. "The Air Force gets back their military after years of supporting the Army," he said.

"This is a significant piece of the networks in the Pentagon that will be completely upgraded," Budd said. "We got rid of old equipment and centralized in our organization...and that's the trend: to centralize the networks in the Pentagon."


A hard bargain

The Air Force's network modernization project includes three major players: the Air Force, the Army and Lockheed Martin Corp. What makes this threesome work is a service-level agreement (SLA) signed last August by the two services' chief information officers, said Frederick Budd, the Army's deputy for information technology and communications.

Budd said Lockheed Martin had previously won a competitive outsourcing contract to take over the Army's Office of the Deputy for Information Technology and Communications networks. The service was so pleased with the results that Budd said he was thrilled at the opportunity for an Army/Lockheed team to perform the Air Force network modernization, despite the quick turnaround and fixed price.

Capt. Theophilus Jackman, chief of the Air Force-Pentagon Communications Agency, said he was pleased so far with the work being done through the SLA.

"They've been meeting our expectations," Jackman said. "It looks like most of the rooms will be done by the first week of May, and then it's just a matter of tying up the loose ends, since the testing has been completed already."

Jackman acknowledged that there have been some minor obstacles along the way, including equipment delivery problems and people changing rooms, but the Army/Lockheed team "took care of the all the bumps and made my job easy."


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