DOD moves to rein in NIPRnet's high user fees

By fielding an interim 10-node asynchronous transfer mode
backbone, the Defense Department expects to cut usage fees for its unclassified global
data network by as much as 29 percent beginning in October.


Rear Adm. John Gauss, deputy director for interoperability engineering at the Defense
Information Systems Agency, said the new plan recognizes that the Non-Classified IP Router
Network (NIPRnet) is too expensive and slow for many service organizations.


NIPRnet is a family of existing service and DOD agency networks that DISA has been
bridging together and upgrading over the last two years. Ultimately, the department plans
to migrate all these users to the planned Defense Information Systems Network (DISN).


Gauss said the current NIPRnet topology is hobbled by incompatible multiplexers and
redundant long-haul links between too many routers.


"From a systems view, bridging networks results in a sub-optimal design," he
said, "so we've had some serious performance problems. If you started with a clean
sheet of paper, you would build a completely different network."


DISA's fees for NIPRnet usage are based on the need to recoup its investment in network
management, long-haul access lines and equipment upgrades. These overhead costs have made
NIPRnet look more expensive than commercial leased services, and as a result, "the
services have gone out and built their own private-line networks," Gauss said.


These so-called subnetworks, which the services use to bypass NIPRnet for their
internal traffic, have become a bone of contention over the last year, as senior DOD
systems officials have demanded that the services accelerate their migration to NIPRnet.


Although all three services are using NIPRnet to communicate with one another and with
overseas bases, they have defended the subnetworks as a financial necessity.


"The Army expects to pay a price that is equivalent to or less than the best price
available to the commercial market, all other factors being equal," said Calvin
Knight, an official at the service's Information Systems Command in Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
"The Army will not pay one cent more than is currently being paid for any of its
telecommunications services."


Navy and Air Force network management officials echoed that sentiment, though they
declined to be identified.


Gauss insisted that NIPRnet rates are in many cases quite competitive, but he
acknowledged that "this year we are more expensive than we could be. Our strategy is
to provide the services with equal or better service at the current price. Then they'll
have an economic incentive to buy from DISA."


Gauss said the rate reductions would vary depending on location and capacity use.
"Everybody's rates will drop," he said, "but if you're outside the
continental United States, your percentage reduction may be a little less than if you're
in CONUS." Overseas long-haul links are more expensive, he said.


Gauss said the new rates, which still are being calculated and will require approval
from several oversight bodies, assume savings generated by the installation of a 10-node
ATM backbone in the United States connected by T3 links leased by DISA.


He said the backbone would let DISA concentrate capacity and reduce the number of
dedicated circuits currently on NIPRnet, thereby eliminating the excess costs of redundant
inter-nodal trunking.


DISA is also assuming that overall improvements in service will attract more customers
to NIPRnet. One of these changes: eliminating incompatible multiplexers and reducing the
number of nodes that each message must traverse from one user to another.


More customers, Gauss added, will give DISA additional economies of scale and lower
rates.


Service network managers expressed cautious optimism at the plan, but insist they would
switch to NIPRnet only if it were competitive.


Gauss said the ATM backbone will be procured and installed under the Leading Edge
Services program run by DISA and the Advanced Research Programs Agency (ARPA). He declined
to explain how the ATM services would be procured, saying only that he expected them to be
available late this year. Gauss also said that the 10 nodes would be geographically
co-located with sites for the Bandwidth Management portion of the DISN procurement.


"This way I've pre-positioned the data for quicker transmission into DISN, and
that then becomes a customer base to pay for DISN as soon as it stands up," he said.


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