Defense builds smart Pentagon

Defense builds smart Pentagon

Plans call for a superfast comm pipe

By William Jackson and Bill Murray

GCN Staff

In the first phase of a massive Pentagon renovation, the Defense Department is installing separate networks for voice, video, and classified and unclassified data.

All the networks are supposed to merge into a single high-speed pipe by the end of the 10-year project.

'I feel confident we'll reach that,' said Col. Robert Kirsch, the Pentagon's project manager for the information management and telecommunications infrastructure renovation.

How soon it happens, however, depends on when various technologies become available and reliable.

Planners have already projected as far out as two decades the networking needs in the 55-year-old building. To build in 50 years' worth of capacity for as-yet-undefined needs, they have designed an OC-48 Synchronous Optical Network backbone on each floor, almost 500 telecommunications closets, 47 communications equipment rooms, and 15 wedge rooms to serve classified and unclassified networks.

The renovation of one of the world's largest office buildings began nine years ago in the basement, and one of three basement segments is finished. An asynchronous transfer mode backbone is in place for the so-called swing space, where 7,000 employees are being housed during work on the five above-ground floors.

Work started in December on the first of five above-ground wedges, each of which will take about two years to complete.

GTE Government Systems Corp. of Needham Heights, Mass., won a $110 million contract to install the ATM network in the first wedge.

Kirsch called the old wiring there a rat's nest and said he expects subsequent wedges will go faster. Some power and network outages have occurred but nothing more serious, he said.

'I just renovated my house, and the disruptions are just like that,' one senior Army executive said.

Kirsch said his job is to ensure that there is enough bandwidth'through large bundles of fiber-optic cable'to preclude any need for assigning priorities to users.

'We're trying to push copper as far out as possible,' Kirsch said.

In the first phase, copper use is confined to telephone service and to some data runs from wiring closets to desks. Video arrives over a combination of fiber and coaxial cable.

Initially, 2.4-Gbps Sonet OC-48 rings will connect three wedge rooms, one for secure and two for unsecure traffic, in each wedge of the five above-ground floors. The ATM mesh will extend into each wedge at 622 Mbps by OC-12 fiber to the edge switches, and by 155-Mbps OC-3 fiber to the telecommunications closets.

Fiber and twisted-pair copper will run from the telecom closets to desks. Each telecom closet will support 100 users in about 10,000 square feet of floor space. Eventually, both secure and unsecured networks will ride on the same Sonet ring, and the two types of traffic will split at the telecom closets.

In the first wedge, users have at least 10-Mbps Ethernet service plus some ATM to the desktop. By 2006, when the third wedge is done, every user will have 100 Mbps, mostly via ATM, Kirsch said.

So much bandwidth could make it unnecessary to buy more-powerful desktop systems, some Army officials suggested.

'We have about 25,000 computers with 10G hard drives at the Pentagon,' said Lt. Gen. William H. Campbell, the Army's chief information officer.

Thinking thin

In the thin-client architecture he envisions, data and applications would reside on the networks rather than on local hard drives. That would better guard sensitive data and would let the Army negotiate cheaper server-based software licenses, Campbell said. Thin clients cost less than PCs and are more flexible to network and replace, he said.

At the core of the Pentagon backbone will be the ForeRunner ASX-1200 ATM switch from Fore Systems Inc. of Warrendale, Pa. GTE Government Systems selected Fore as the switch provider for the first wedge after Fore provided the ATM network for the swing space.

Fore has a sizable presence in the Defense Information Systems Agency's global ATM backbone and at the intelligence agencies, said Steve White of Fore Systems. He said ATM was selected for the Pentagon backbone because it has the reliability and scalability for an infrastructure expected to last for 50 years. 'ATM handles that gracefully,' he said, because it can transmit various Ethernet flavors as well as telephony and video.

The ASX-1200 switch generates concatenated OC-48, which means the bandwidth is consolidated on a single pipe rather than bundled in smaller pipes. To get ready for expanding requirements, Fore is working on a 10-Gbps OC-192 switch. A wave-division-multiplexing function in the current ASX-4000 switch can attain 10-Gbps OC-48 rates, White said.

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