NIST upgrades to faster, more accessible backbone

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is upgrading its campus network in
Gaithersburg, Md., to do all things for all users.

NIST will maintain its old Fiber Distributed Data Interface backbone while migrating to
asynchronous transfer mode, installing Gigabit Ethernet between switches, and
accommodating a growing number of requests for adding switched Ethernet and Fast Ethernet
to desktop PCs.

“We’re trying to make the network connection like the phone connection,”
by just plugging in equipment and ordering needed services, said Sean Sell, NISTnet
project leader.

To handle a variety of speeds and protocols, NISTnet has chosen the Omni Switch-Router
from Xylan Corp. of Calabasas, Calif. The Omni S/R, announced in September, is
Xylan’s entry into the gigabit switch market. De-signed to support migrations from
token-ring and FDDI to Gigabit Ethernet and ATM, it can reside either on the WAN or in the
wiring closet.

“People have polyglot networks out there,” said David Rodewald, director of
corporate communications for Xylan. “This accommodates them.”

“We’re using Xylan at the edge,” Sell said. Switches from Fore Systems
Inc. of Warrendale, Pa., sit on the ATM backbone, and Fore PowerHub LAN switches provide
connections between ATM and FDDI.

The upgrade is part of a four-year plan to rewire the campus with Category 5 wiring.
Network segments will move from FDDI to ATM as facilities are rewired.

“It will probably be four years before we turn off the FDDI,” Sell said.

The old network was built around Proteon routers from OpenRoute Networks Inc. of
Westborough, Mass., and some routers from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

Proteon “has been a good router for us,” Sell said, “but it only has
FDDI and Ethernet.”

Two ForeRunner ASX-1000 ATM Backbone Switches now are in place, and two others will
arrive later. NIST originally had planned to use ASX-4000 switches, but they were more

Once each building has ATM, the switches are connected via Gigabit Ethernet and desktop
users have 10/100-Mbps switched service, “we’re going to experiment with Gigabit
Ethernet to the servers,” Sell said.

A chemistry laboratory now under construction will be wired with new gigabit-speed
copper wire from Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J.

FireWall-1 firewalls from CheckPoint Software Technologies Ltd. of Redwood City,
Calif., will provide security both outside and inside the network. Because some internal
segregation is necessary, the FireWall-1 agent will run on Xylan’s Omni S/R.

Sell said NIST is not locked into Xylan’s switch for wiring closets. He expects
other switch-routers to offer the same features within a year.

But in the meantime, only Fore’s more expensive PowerHub is comparable to the Omni
S/R, he said.

The Xylan device has a 22-Gbps backplane and can route 12 million packets per second.
It will have more than 40 desktop, backbone and WAN modules to supply up to 32 Gigabit
Ethernet ports or up to 16 FDDI ports, and up to 256 10/100-Mbps Ethernet or token-ring
ports. The WAN modules will have a range of interfaces for fractional T1, various ATM
rates and packet-over-Synchronous Optical Network services.  

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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