USDA plans 21 city networks

Who will share nets?

The so-called Group 1 cities probably will become concentration or hub nodes on a new
nationwide backbone Agriculture is planning. The idea is to consolidate traffic in
cities with the highest traffic volumes and the most facilities, said Gordon Durflinger,
leader of the business services team for USDA Telecom Services and Operations.

“Over the past couple of years, we’ve been working very hard to manage our
networks and communications,” Durflinger said. It is no easy job, in part because the
department is so geographically diverse. USDA has more than 20 services and agencies with
offices in nearly every county in the nation.

Network installations will vary from city to city, depending on local needs, but the
links probably will consist of dedicated T1 lines and some multiple T1 lines, supplied
through the General Services Administration’s FTS 2001 telecommunications contracts.

Sites that need lower-bandwidth than a T1 connection probably will use local loops
acquired through local exchange carriers.

The urgency of choosing a new departmentwide long-haul telecom provider has temporarily
interrupted plans for Group 1 networks, however.

“We’re going to put things on hold while USDA makes a transition to the new
FTS 2001 contract,” Durflinger said.

Agencies have until the end of 2000 to leave their current long-distance carriers, but
most are opting to move sooner to services from FTS 2001 contractors Sprint Corp. and MCI
WorldCom Inc. Agriculture has made only a preliminary decision about a new provider so

Agriculture officials selected the Group 1 cities and likely nodes by analyzing their
FTS 2000 traffic. Some of the cities have four or five offices, others up to 15. Although
a traffic baseline exists, Durflinger said it could take up to a year’s worth of data
to identify patterns and set up architectures for the LANs and mini-MANs.

Some of the networks probably will use policy-based routing instead of tunneling,
Durflinger said. Encapsulating one protocol format within a more common protocol format
makes the packets too large for some USDA Internet or intranet sites, “so we’re
trying to look at policy-based routing to avoid it,” Durflinger said.

Ultimately, the problem of the large packets’ rejection by some departmental Web
sites could be solved by making USDA one ubiquitous Internet domain. But that will take
time, Durflinger said.

Many Agriculture agencies have their own Web sites that predate, and
placing them under a single USDA domain raises not only technical but turf questions, he

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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