Navy will install Xylan ATM switches aboard four ship groups

In its continuing effort to modernize its shipboard communications systems, the Navy
will outfit two carrier battle groups and two amphibious-ready groups with asynchronous
transfer mode LANs in the next year.


The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command this month negotiated an order with
Electronic Data Systems Corp. under the company’s PC LAN+ contract to provide ATM
switches from Xylan Corp. of Calabasas, Calif., to serve as the communications backbones
on the ships.


The one-year delivery order is part of the Navy’s Information Technology for the
21st Century initiative, through which the service is modernizing its fleet with
high-speed ATM LANs aboard ships and ashore.


The shipboard ATM backbones will be capable of transmission rates of OC-3 or OC-12,
Navy officials said. ATM-to-the-desktop capabilities will support Fast Ethernet
transmission rates of at least 100 Mbps, they said.


Xylan ATM and LAN equipment has completed performance tests conducted by the
Navy’s interoperability lab in Norfolk, Va., and meets IT-21 requirements. The
products will link separate Navy systems such as the Global Command Control
System-Maritime, Naval Tactical Command Support System and Advanced Digital Network
System.


“There are some products, such as routers and interface cards, from other vendors
involved. However, they are not the major backbone switch component,” said Capt. Mark
Lenci, deputy director of SPAWAR’s Global Information and Network Systems
Directorate.


“The reason we went with the Xylan switch is because we have a deployed base
already on ships,” Lenci said. “By the time we could switch to anything else we
would have over 130 Xylan switches aboard ships.”


The Navy so far has used only Xylan switches for its shipboard IT-21 LANs despite the
fact that ATM and Fast Ethernet switches from Bay Networks Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.,
Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., and 3Com of Santa Clara beat Xylan in Navy IT-21
certification tests.


The test suite, developed by EDS for the Navy, evaluated each vendor’s ability to
deliver 155-Mbps ATM and 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet connections to 10 end-user systems. The
service averaged the scores for three tests on each switch.


3Com’s links provided the fastest connectivity to both ATM and Fast Ethernet
systems. Xylan’s connections, however, ranked fourth out of six vendors, with Fore
Systems Inc. of Warrendale, Pa., and Cabletron Systems Inc. of Rochester, N.H., placing
fifth and sixth, respectively.


“Faster is not always the defining issue; supportability may weigh stronger,”
SPAWAR spokesman Richard Williamson said. “The bottom line is that the Navy has not
standardized on Xylan switches. There will be about 135 Xylan switches installed on Navy
ships by the spring of 1999. The decision for this particular delivery order was to
utilize the Xylan switch because of the ones that we already have installed.”


The Navy plans to handle the LAN installations through year-to-year acquisitions and do
new evaluations annually, Williamson said. “The testing that was done in the
interoperability lab was still ongoing when this decision was made,” he said.
“We now have some benchmark data that we did not have when this decision was
made.”


Ultimately, the Navy will install IT-21 LANs on all its ships, as it already has on the
USS Enterprise and USS Kitty Hawk carrier battle groups, as well as USS Belleau Wood and
USS Nassau amphibious-ready groups.


The Clinton administration earlier this month ordered the Enterprise and Belleau Wood
groups to the Persian Gulf as part of a build-up of military forces to deal with the
latest crisis in Iraq. The ships are scheduled to arrive in the gulf this week.


“We don’t know if we will go ATM on every single ship,” Lenci said.
“The intention under this program is to install LANs on every ship in the Navy over
the next two years.”


Adm. Archie Clemins, commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said this month at the
Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s TechNet Asia-Pacific
’98 conference in Hawaii that the Navy is committed to ATM technology, especially
given that the price of ATM continues to drop. Pacific Fleet headquarters last year
established ATM-to-the-desktop capabilities for its LAN at Pearl Harbor, Clemins said.


For the IT-21 Afloat contract, SPAWAR solicited 11 bids and got seven proposals from
vendors who hold contracts or have blanket purchasing agreements with the Navy, Lenci
said. The command whittled the list to five vendors before selecting EDS, he said.  

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