Lackland adds fiber to its blade diet

Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, is feeding fiber to its PC blade farm.

About a year ago Lackland began replacing its 200-plus desktop computers with rack-mounted ClearCube PC blades in a locked server room. Users have been testing desktop fiber command units called C/Ports from ClearCube Technology Inc. of Austin, Texas.

The fiber connections added about $170,000 to the cost of the blades.

Fiber now links 96 users to classified networks. It also is replacing copper cable to some of the base's unclassified systems.

With the fiber connections, users can toggle to classified networks on their own monitors rather than hiking down the hall to a secure room or squeezing separate classified and unclassified systems onto their desks.

Each desk now holds only a keyboard, a monitor, a mouse and a pair of fiber C/Ports'one for classified work and the other for unclassified. Fiber can connect the C/Ports over distances longer than 500 meters to the rack-mounted blades.

'You can transmit data securely over fiber,' said Russ McFall, a network administrator at the base. 'You don't have to have two computers at your desk.'

He said the fiber connections have two other advantages: no bulky CPU towers to plug, unplug and cart around; and no drives for unauthorized floppies or CD-ROMs.

'We're cutting off where users can put viruses into our system,' he said. 'We stick all the computers in one rack instead of all over the place.'

No house calls

The base's four systems administrators can install software patches, inventory assets or fix glitches from a single console in less than a third of the time it used to take to visit users' desks, he said.

Lackland's R1100 blades, which run Microsoft Windows XP, each have a 1.8-GHz Pentium 4 processor, a 120G hard drive and up to 4G of synchronous dynamic RAM. Administrators access ClearCube's blade management suite by browser.

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