Army base eases network jam

We’re
trying to get people to stop using e-mail as a way of passing PowerPoint files


Information technology plumbers at Fort Monroe, Va., are trying several methods to
unclog a local network.


In a move from shared 10-Mbps LAN segments to a 100-Mbps switched environment,
technicians at the Army base are replacing three routers from Bay Networks Inc. of Santa
Clara, Calif., which cost $15,000 a year each to maintain, with year 2000-ready Cisco 5500
switches from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.


Even with the improvements under way, however, the Directorate of Information
Management sometimes still finds e-mail attachments choking the network gateway.
Attachments have been the most popular way to distribute large documents, such as
presentations developed in Microsoft PowerPoint.


“We’re trying to get people to stop using e-mail as a way of passing
PowerPoint files,” said Boyd Greever, chief of the Information Systems Branch at Fort
Monroe. “E-mail attachments are a terribly inefficient way to make documents
available to a large number of people.”


Early this year, the IS Branch bought a tool from Net-It Software Corp. of San
Francisco to publish documents on the base intranet. Personnel can view documents in their
native format with Java-enabled Web browsers.


Since Net-It Central went into use in May, the intranet slowly is becoming the medium
of choice for disseminating information.


The base’s personnel department, which funded the purchase of Net-It Central Pro
2.6, has posted more than 600 documents to the intranet and is adding 50 to 75 more each
week, Greever said. Personnel officials bought the $9,995 application because they saw an
immediate need to facilitate document publication, Greever said.


Other units also using Net-It Central at Fort Monroe include the information
management, base operations, combat development and physical infrastructure offices.


Hypertext Markup Language cannot handle all types of layouts, and simple HTML
translation does not necessarily present a document in its original format on the
intranet. Adobe Portable Document Format requires users to download and install viewer
applications.


Net-It Central uses proprietary technology to create a jDoc—a compact version of
the document that appears in the user’s browser as a Java applet. Image compression
reduces the average document page to about 30K, often a fraction of its original size.


Net-It Central is a Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT application that usually runs on
a server, said Net-It product manager Jim Rosenberg. It must be installed on the server
along with the desktop applications used to create the documents being published.


Fort Monroe users compose most of their documents in Microsoft Word and PowerPoint or
Crystal Reports from Great Plains Software Inc. of Fargo, N.D., Greever said.


A Net-It Central template can be customized for HTML translation to determine the look
of the Web page in which the document appears. Broadcast file folders on the file servers
specify where finished documents will be loaded on Web servers. Users can subscribe to
specific folders and receive automatic notifications of updates to documents published
from them.


To publish a document, the author drags the file to the appropriate broadcast file
folder. Net-It Central polls the folders at regular intervals and retrieves new files for
conversion. Each is loaded on the appropriate server, according to the specifications of
the broadcast folder from which it came.


Fort Monroe runs Net-It Central on a Hewlett-Packard Co. NetServer LH Pro server under
Windows NT 4.0.


Getting people to change their habits and use the intranet is the toughest part of the
job, Greever said. But the tools are in place.


“And the beauty of it is, I didn’t have to do that much work,” he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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