Web traffic invades, occupies DOD's NIPRnet

World Wide Web traffic has commandeered Defense Department data
networks over the past year, pushing once-reclusive organizations into the Internet
limelight and gobbling up bandwidth.


In late 1994 there were only a few dozen DOD servers hosting Web sites and home pages.
Today, more than 1,000 military organizations have established home pages.


As a result, graphics-intensive data traffic now accounts for up to 75 percent of all
the bits flowing over unclassified Defense networks, according to data traffic figures
gathered by the services and compiled by GCN.


Statistics from the Defense Information Systems Agency show that growth in traffic over
the Non-Classified IP Router Network (NIPRnet), the backbone network shared by the
services and DOD agencies, was relatively flat until November 1994. But over the
subsequent year, traffic nearly quadrupled, in a curve that mirrors increases in the
number of hits to DOD's largest Web gateway servers.


"Our data requirements have doubled in each of the last six-month periods,"
said Rear Adm. John Gauss, DISA's deputy director for engineering and interoperability.


Service network managers said they expect current growth rates in Web use will continue
during the coming year. Improvements in base-level and NIPRnet bandwidth resources might
be needed to handle the traffic, they said.


NIPRnet capacity is expected to grow markedly later this year, when DISA installs an
interim asynchronous transfer mode backbone connected by T3 trunks.


Many DOD users are so eager to tap into department Web sites that they are paying to do
so. "We estimate that half of our Army users are coming to us over commercial on-line
services," said Lee Stocker, an Army network engineer and webmaster. "Most of
these guys at the base level don't have a PC and they don't have [Internet] access, so
they get to us from home."


DOD network experts cited additional factors contributing to the Web and NIPRnet
traffic surge.


In a tight budget climate, a home page amounts to a cheap but effective way for
organizations to increase visibility and advertise their services, Stocker said.
"There is a huge vanity factor" in the rush to set up home pages, he added.


Early last year, service public affairs units began to leverage the trend, setting up
high-capacity Web servers such as DefenseLink, AirForceLink and ArmyLink and loading them
with gigabytes of frequently requested information, photos and pointers to other DOD
sites. NavyOnLine, DOD's busiest Web site, has been running since October 1993. Last
month, it was joined on line by a site for the Marine Corps, MarineLink.


DefenseLink and its counterparts appeared on the Internet just as major commercial
on-line services such as America Online and CompuServe began offering free Web browsers to
their subscribers. That combination unleashed hundreds of thousands of curious Web surfers
onto DOD's unclassified networks. The upsurge nearly swamped gateways connecting the
services' subnetworks to NIPRnet and the Internet.


Darrel Beach, chief of network engineering for the Air Force Standard Systems Group in
Montgomery, Ala., said other kinds of IP network traffic--e-mail, newsgroup messages and
remote log-ons to data processing megacenters--have grown little over the past year, while
Web traffic has proliferated.


"The potential for it to use up all of our bandwidth is very high at some
[gateways] during peak usage times," Beach said.


Beach and Stocker, among others, said the Web is fundamentally changing the way the
services disseminate information down the ranks.


"This is where soldiers are looking for their first source of information,"
Stocker said. "They're not waiting for it to come down the [organizational] pipeline
or to hear about it on the phone. They're going to a particular organization's home page
and tracking it down that way."


DOD also has begun using the Internet to build small intranets serving only DOD users,
Gauss said. Besides their public Web sites, the services also have been setting up
controlled-access home pages and sites on the NIPRnet and its classified counterpart, the
Secret IP Router Network, he said. Through these sites, the services disseminate
administrative and policy documents.


The Web also has been a boon to DOD's acquisition organizations, which are replacing
dial-up bulletin board systems with home pages that list upcoming buys and related
information. ACQWeb, a gateway home page run by the under secretary of Defense for
acquisition and technology, is among the most popular in all of DOD, averaging 30,000 hits
a day.


DOD's public affairs community sees the Web as a means of flattening the military news
distribution hierarchy. No longer do the Pentagon public affairs shops have to send news
releases to commands and bases, which in turn mail or fax them to local press and media
outlets.


DOD public affairs officials said a growing number of Americans are downloading the
releases directly, instead of waiting to hear about them on the evening news.


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