NT server net will link 34,000 postal facilities
- By Florence Olsen
- Apr 14, 1997
When complete, the network might be the largest-ever infrastructure of Windows NT
hierarchical domains, said telecommunications industry analyst Warren Suss of Warren H.
Suss Associates in Jenkintown, Pa.
For 20 years, the Postal Service has built its own networks, replacing an IBM
Systems Network Architecture backbone three years ago with an IP network, "because we
saw the handwriting on the wall," Weirich said.
MCI will provide the IP routed backbone services over its public frame-relay
network. The fastest connections to the fiber-optic backbone will be 45-megabit/sec T3 or
higher. No connections will be slower than 56 kilobits/sec.
USPS will sell MCI its current Bay Networks Inc. IP routers on the existing Postal
Routed Network, which connects 900 administrative facilities and mail-sorting centers via
regional Bell operating companies and the Sprint Corp. FTS 2000 network.
MCI will expand the PRN with IP routers from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.
"The Postal Service will be 100 percent connected by MCI," said Tony Bardo,
MCI's director of civilian networks in McLean, Va.
MCI has 90 days from contract award to connect 600 postal retail facilities to the
network, six months to take over PRN management and one year to move all postal
telecommunications services to the MCI network.
In the second phase, the network will reach 8,000 sites, Weirich said.
MCI will build a dedicated network management facility in Raleigh, N.C., where
postal employees have set up a remote software distribution and configuration management
facility for the Windows NT domain architecture and point-of-service (POS) retail
Those management functions will link to a three-tier, around-the-clock help desk
that 200 Electronic Data Systems Corp. employees will run. For trouble-ticketing, the EDS
contract staff will use the Action Request System from Remedy Corp. of Mountain View,
The changeover has not come without a crash or two, said Joe Seay, a systems analyst
with the agency's Remote Infrastructure Support Service in Raleigh.
Seay's group is testing the distribution software that will deliver applications to
the NT primary and backup domain controllers, all reporting to a master domain controller
Amdahl Corp.'s A+ Enterprise Desktop Manager will deliver the software to the post
office servers. "We haven't distributed anything on a large scale yet," Seay
said, but so far it seems to be working.
Bandwidth limits the files that can go out at one time to 30M, because "we have
to think about the slowest link," he said.
From its ADEPT hardware sourcing contract, the Postal Service is buying the Windows
NT 3.51 servers: 133-MHz Digital Equipment Corp. Pentium machines.
The NT domain architecture, known as the Associate Office Infrastructure, will have
85 primary domain controllers and an undetermined number of backup domain controllers. NT
also is the operating system for the 73,000 POS stations at postal retail facilities.
USPS has given the POS contractors, IBM Corp. and NCR Corp., the application
programming interfaces for postal information systems on current Amdahl and IBM mainframes
in Minneapolis and San Mateo, Calif., and on Digital VAX computers in 85 postal districts.
David Hunter, the POS project manager, said the agency will look for middleware
products to provide real-time connectivity between the POS stations and older postal
Until now the Postal Service lacked the network infrastructure for tracking and
lookup services that attract customers to its commercial competitors. "If you want us
to look up your box rental account, we'll be able to do that with the new POS
system," Weirich said. "With the old system, we had no way to get to that
The Postal Service last summer awarded fixed-price contracts to IBM and NCR for the
new POS hardware and application software that clerks will use at service windows. Both
vendors are customizing commercial storefront software.
The POS stations will have postal regulations online. The upgradeable stations will be
Pentium PCs with hardware attachments for printing money orders, scanning bar codes,
verifying checks, and processing debit and credit transactions.
When the first POS stations arrive in May and August, the Postal Service will begin
removing older non-networked retail terminals. Hardware is failing now "just because
of the age of the equipment," Hunter said.
Once the POS stations and servers are collecting retail transactions, data
warehousing is the next goal. The Postal Service handles 7 million retail transactions a
day, Hunter said.
As the agency converts to POS and creates ever more data, there will be sizing problems
with warehoused data.