NIH opens a bandwidth closet

In new buildings on the National Institutes of Health campus, Michael Stoos and other
network support personnel can now colocate telephone and LAN cables in wiring closets.

But support issues are still tangled. Stoos and officemate Mike Griffin each have three
desktop computers: a PC, an Apple Macintosh and a Sun Microsystems Inc. workstation. Many
NIH employees use Macs and Unix machines, although the agency has set a goal of
standardizing on one operating system.

Migration will be the task of NIH's chief information officer when that post is filled,
Stoos said.

Meanwhile, NIH organizations have been brainstorming for ways to acquire more switches
and upgrade routers to meet desktop PC bandwidth requirements.

"The network infrastructure is considered before construction now, rather than as
retrofitting," said Stoos, an electronics engineer in the Network Systems Branch of
NIH's Division of Computer Research and Technology. "It's a lot less expensive."

His branch develops software for NIH in addition to providing 24-hour support for
administrators, doctors, researchers and scientists.

NIH is not the only agency that's taking advantage of new buildings to improve
infrastructure. During renovation of the World War II-era Pentagon, some Defense
Department agencies have moved into nearby office space with better communications
capabilities, said Staff Sgt. William G. Brewington, a network manager at the Air Force
Studies and Analyses Agency.

In the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's newer buildings, LAN closets
are built atop one another, and server rooms can be secured, said Milton Hamiel, a NOAA
computer specialist.

Some NIH personnel have difficulty understanding the technical jargon at the
brainstorming sessions, however.

Stoos "normally speaks in binary, so if you need a translation, we can provide
one," said Griffin, a computer specialist.

The most frequent trouble calls at NIH involve e-mail service, lost IP addresses and
difficulty getting into LAN closets, Stoos said.

"Hopefully, before we get the phone call, we know what's going on," he said.

Callers, however, are becoming more sophisticated and demanding extra bandwidth and

Agencies complain about losing technicians to industry. Stoos said, "We're happy
to be here. We have a great work environment." Electronics engineers get bonus pay at

The branch also fields questions from procurement officials about network products and
gives advice on network design, Stoos said. Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet are hot
topics, because new computers come with 10/100-megabit/sec network interface cards.

"Three years ago, we didn't see any switches, and 100Base-T was
cost-prohibitive," he said.

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