Reservists lead ATM charge

"We are in the process of switching over from [the Reserve Component Automation
System] and moving everything to the ATM backbone," said Lt. Col. Philip E. Vermeer,
the Guard's Technical Division chief.

Plans call for wiring 112 classrooms by March and 600 more by 2000, putting all
reservists within a 60-minute drive of an interactive distance-learning center.

The Guard will manage the national network, and the states will manage local
facilities. To offset part of the cost, states can rent access to agencies and civilians
28 days a month while the Guard is not using the network.

Guard officials have talked with the General Services Administration about giving all
agencies access to the backbone--the first federal ATM network connecting all 50 states,
Puerto Rico, Guam, Virgin Islands and District of Columbia.

"We've got a whole host of state and federal agencies waiting to use this
backbone," Vermeer said.

In Iowa, 57 armories have been linked on a T3 test bed with 500 other distance-learning
centers since 1993, and they pay $10 per hour for access. About 10,000 students have
earned four-year college degrees through Iowa's distance-learning network in the past

"Adult education between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. is a big deal" on the network,
Vermeer said.

Nine distance-learning demonstration classrooms have been set up at armories in
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. They use dedicated lines to the
Guard's readiness center in Virginia and will switch to the new network over the next six
months, Vermeer said.

The idea of a network that pays for itself while improving training for Guard members
quickly won congressional support, Vermeer said. Congress appropriated $51 million in
fiscal 1997 to develop the network and link the first classrooms. Fiscal 1998 brought
another $52 million to fund the next 162 classrooms.

"The Guard is trying to capitalize on multimedia," said Gary Yenser, director
of National Guard programs for the network integrator, Electronic Data Systems Corp.
"That led them to ATM."

MCI Communications Corp. deployed the T3 backbone late last year, running T1 lines to
each state regional command center. Each state or territory links to one of seven regional
hubs on the backbone.

The hubs consist of hardware from 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., and Fore Systems
Inc. of Pittsburgh. Each state node will have a Multimedia Workgroup Switch from Bay
Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

The multimedia switches deliver 25-megabit/sec ATM connections to desktop PCs. A
V-Caster ATM gateway from First Virtual Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., links to a
multimedia switch to encode video feeds in Motion Picture Experts Group compressed format
for multicasting. First Virtual's V-Cache gives access on demand to large multimedia files
over the ATM network.

The most elaborate classroom configurations will have as many as 18 student work
centers and two instructor work centers.

Until now, Guard classrooms have been static except for a few experiments with one-way
video and two-way audio. The ATM multicasts will let instructors interact with Guard
personnel around the country at the same time, and soldiers can cache instructional
materials to study on their own schedules.

Even so, the classrooms would remain empty most of the time if used only by the Guard,
Vermeer said. Other armory spaces are routinely rented for community uses such as dances
and auctions. The network will boost that rental value.

"We've got the bricks and mortar, we've got the parking lots, and they're being
underutilized," Vermeer said.

Each state will set policies and prices for network use and will pay a fee to the
National Guard to guarantee quality of service.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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